The more I think about United’s new business class seat the more I like it. It’s not my favorite business class seat in the world. It’s not even my second favorite business class seat. But United will have a lot of these new seats in their aircraft — the first Boeing 777-300ER comes with 60.
My only disappointment is how long it will take to retrofit existing aircraft: it will be 2021 before the bulk of the fleet has them.
When ANA moved from the flat seat recliner to the newer shell, they reduced first class capacity from 12 seats (2 rows of 2-2-2 seating) to 8 seats (2 rows of 1-2-1 seating).
And that meant the end of ANA first class awards for awhile. The earlier 12 seat configuration meant a lot of excess seats, and 2 first class award seats on pretty much every flight.
It wasn’t the most luxurious seat, but ANA’s service and catering were phenomenal, and I actually lamented the improvements because a better product that I don’t have access to does me no good at all.
ANA awards are tougher to get than they were 10 years ago, but not nearly as tough as when they first introduced each new product. I’ve been fortunate to fly ANA in first several times since then.
Ironically at the time it seemed like at the time the only international first class I’d regularly see was Lufthansa’s, since they had 16 seats upstairs on their Boeing 747s.
Of course they have since cut first in half, and now only make first class awards available to partners on a general basis within 2 weeks of flight.
So while I can appreciate the best products in the world (Etihad’s The Residence is truly something to behold), I appreciate most very good products that are attainable.
It’s not necessarily in the business interests of airlines to always have substantially more seats left over for upgrades than they can sell. But having some at least some of the time is valuable because it means not running out of those high priced premium seats and it means offering a value proposition for loyalty programs that are themselves drivers of profit (Delta gets $2 billion a year just from American Express for their SkyMiles credit cards). People need to want the miles, and for that they need to be able to use the miles for something valuable.
One of the first things American Airlines did after US Airways management took over is increase the number of seats per aircraft. For instance,
- Boeing 737-800s went from 150 to 160
- Boeing 777-200s from 247 to 260
- MD80s from 135 to 140
In fact American then even decided to go to an even higher density Boeing 777-200 configuration for retrofits with 289 seats. They get there by reducing the number of business class seats.
Along with word of how few premium seats there will be on American’s new Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A350 aircraft it’s clear they want to take care to only have premium seats that are likely to be sold. They want everyone to pay for exactly the product they get.
That makes upgrades and awards tough. So in comparison I’ll take United’s seat over American’s if it turns out the greater number of business class seats at United means I can actually book them sometimes using miles for awards or upgrades.
Takeaway: The best airline seat is the best one you have access to.