Debating the Merits of United’s Old Business Class Seats for Longhaul Flying

PlaneReality flew United’s old business class Los Angeles – London and offers a review.

Naturally it starts with a broken, that’s a given. Food and service seemed ok, this is business class and not first after all. The major complaints were lack of standard power supply and lack of video on demand on a decent screen. This is the part that struck me, though:

These older seats have great recline and plenty of legroom, but go for an aisle seat if you plan on getting up a lot. Like I alluded to, United could keep these seats if they installed audio video on-demand.

What’s funny is that PlaneReality’s take is the exact opposite of mine.

I don’t really care what kind of power supply United offers, I have an empower adapter and they aren’t especially expensive if I didn’t. And I can manage inflight entertainment on my own, just load up DVDs on my laptop and I’m good to go — not even dependent on the choices that United decides to offer.

What I really need, though, is a decent seat.

Now, the seats aren’t actually awful. I’ve spent many many hours over many many trips sitting in them over the years. I’ve certainly had my share of long-haul flights e.g. to Sydney in the old United business seats.

But the seats themselves are showing substantial wear, the padding in many of them is just worn out and the legrests are clunky in their adjustments to say the least I often have to hold onto the bottom portion of the seat as I adjust it out.

And it’s not just that the seats are old, laying flat really does make a difference for a restful sleep. And it’s something that United’s competitors offer, and offer on this route in particular.

  • British Airways pioneered the true lie-flat seat.
  • Air New Zealand and Virgin have similar, really excellent flat seats

    Competitor American has a not great business seat for sure, but it’s better than the old United seat, at least one would be hard pressed to make an argument the other way around.

    Now, transatlantic to other destinations is another story, Lufthansa nad Air France and Swiss all offer angled-flat products out of Los Angeles. So when United installs fully flat seats in the 777 they’ll leap ahead of those competitors. But even so, those carriers offer more advanced seats than the old cradle/barcalounger style seating that still flies in United’s 777 aircraft.

    My starting point for long-haul is that the thing that matters most is the seat. And that’s where United is finally, in a behind-schedule sort of way, finally taking the plunge with their mainstay 777 aircraft.

  • About Gary Leff

    Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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    1. unfortunately, I still prefer the OLD seats to the new ones. the new ones are a bit NARROW and SHORT for a 6’5″ traveler, while I like the bigger AV setup, I have had only 50% success of it WORKING THE ENTIRE FLIGHT. Usually, it goes out and doesn’t come back since apparently as was historically true, the “whole system” has to be rebooted and if the Y cabin is working they let it go. There is NO PLACE to put things like NC headphones, laptop, etc, just a small space for magazines – even a BOOK won’t fit in there. Also, be warned, if you drop something BEHIND the seat, good luch getting it without a meter long alligator stick thingy – there is no way to get a hand down behind the seat.

      The older ones and seat back pocket provider better options for ME at least. One note about the old seats, has ANYONE EVER had that little THIGH BOLSTER work? I have tried for over a decade now, none have ever worked. It would be a nice touch.

    2. Are these seats on the 777? How do these compare to the old F seats in the 777? I’m flying NRT-SFO in F on that bird and want to know if I should keep looking for better options…do the F seats have AVOD and regular laptop power?

    3. I’m with you Gary. It’s the SEAT that matters most on long hauls. My short attention span results in a viewing habit that involves watching a movie for a few minutes, then pause and do something else, then return to the movie. I do this 3, 4 or 5 times during the course of a typically limited attention-grabbing movie. Rare is the time when I watch an entire movie in one sitting. On top of that even the most highly touted IFEs have a clunky user interface and and they all seem to be stuck with the clumsy 1980-era wired remote. Consequently, I hardly use the airline-offered IFE, except occasionally to glance at the air show (updating map). I get much better movie and TV selections and viewing experience on my MacBook Pro or, now, on my iPad.

    4. Totally agree with you on this one. I fly a lot of intercontinental long haul, mostly on Delta (primarily old NW), Lufthansa, and occasionally someone like Air France, Asiana, or Singapore Airlines. United flies many of my routes but I have purposely avoided them because of their old business class seat. The first time I experienced it was a flight from the US to Singapore via Chicago and Narita. I’ll never forget it…I boarded the plane and was like “WTF? Is this 1992? No power adjustment, video screen is teeny tiny, terrible cushioning, etc.” I remember being extremely fatigued by the time that I arrived in Singapore. At that time, I had already experienced the flat seats on SQ, BA, NW, LH, and AF, so this was an extreme letdown. I don’t like Delta’s old Business Elite seats either, but they are far better than the old United…at least I can usually find a somewhat comfortable sleeping position.

      I have flown the new United business class and think it is great. But they did a bait and switch on me – they deployed the new biz class on one of my most frequent routes. Then, during the middle of trip, they upgraded the plane from a 767 to a 777. So, I was extremely disappointed with my return flight.

      If only the US airlines could upgrade their grizzled old battleaxe flight attendants and have nice ones that care like SQ or even some of the European airlines, then we’d be moving in the right direction.

    5. I agree 100% about inflight entertainment and power. The VOD & power on the flat seats are a nice touch, but hardly crucial. Although I cringe at United having gone from 7 across to 8 across, the seat itself is wonderful. From all comparable angles–fully upright, partially reclined and fully reclined–the new seat is superior. Add to that the ability to go truly flat and it’s a huge improvement–one of the few areas where United can compete with the best airlines in the world.

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