United Plans to ‘Densify’ 757s, Less Room Per Passenger and Less Value for Same Money

United has been putting ‘slimline’ seats — less padding, not a friend to your back and bum — into domestic narrowbody planes for five years. Each seat takes up less space and they can squeeze more seats onto the plane. I don’t mind these seats for an hour or two but I find them uncomfortable on longer flights.

When US Airways management took over American Airlines they started squeezing more seats into planes, too. For instance American’s Boeing 737s went from 150 to 160 seats three years ago. Now they’re using slimline seats and smaller lavatories to squeeze even more seats in. Their new standard 737 configuration goes from 160 to 172 seats.

And now US Airways management — namely former US Airways and American Airlines President Scott Kirby — is in charge at United. It’s no surprise that United is in an arms race to squeeze more seats onto planes, too.

Flightglobal reports on a leaked memo to the airline’s pilots that they’ll be adding seats to the coach cabin of their 21 Boeing 757-300 aircraft.

The Chicago-based carrier will add 20 seats to the economy cabin on the aircraft for a total of 210 seats, a notice to pilots on 17 December viewed by FlightGlobal shows. First class will continue to have 24 seats.

United’s reconfigured 757-300s will have 234 seats, up from 213 currently

To be fair to United, this merely continues the path they’ve been on of taking space away from customers. Their new Boeing 777-300ERs come fresh from the factory with 10 abreast seating like American (Delta offers 9-across seats in the same space).

In addition when United reconfigures Boeing 777-200s new business class seats those densify as well going from 267 or 269 seats up to 292. So when you buy a ticket on United you get less than before for the same price.

(HT: TravelSkills)

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Soon enough we will be thinking back “fondly” of those time with “only” 10 abreast….sitting in a row with 13! (4-5-4) seats across.

  2. I have flown less than 5000 miles this year on United. For over a decade I was 1K flying in excess of 125,000 miles a year. I CANNOT tolerate their slimline seats on long flights so I stopped flying them. Even as a 1K there were many times my upgrades did not come through so I figured it was no longer worth the risk. I either book first or business or I fly someone else who doesn’t punish my body for 4-5 hours flying across the country. My health is way more important than their devalued miles. I would rather collect my miles through credit card purchases and avoid the torture!!! Hopefully one day this will all come back to haunt these greedy airlines.

  3. To each his own, I guess. For me, the slimline seats are perfectly comfortable. EconomyPlus needed for sufficient leg space for sleep on redeyes, but with that, I always get at least 4 hours of sleep. Flew LAX-YYZ on AC in economy a month ago, with the older seat and padding, and my rear legs went numb because it was too soft on key pressure points.

  4. Whose fault is this? Plenty of blame to go around, but a lot needs to fall squarely on consumers, who are generally idiots who shop for flights based on just one criteria: the lowest possible price. Scummy airlines are just giving them what they ask for.

    If consumers refused to fly on these sardine-cans-with-wings the airlines would change their ways fairly quickly, but the traveling pubic will never wise up. The result, thanks to the Stupidity Of Crowds, is WalMart Air.

  5. Be fair: Many if not most readers of blogs like this do not have to watch their cents as closely as John Doe does. Or did we need all the J and F class and 5* hotel reviews if I had this totally wrong?

    Greedy airlines? Maybe. But greedy customers, too.

    More amenities, more comfort wanted, but the price, be it in cash or points, must never increase or else all the blogosphere goes nuts posting whiny whiny reports about disappeared privileges, higher prices, crowded Y class in which these bloggers never fly at all anyway and also ignore that prices for J and F would raise if Y was not to become more dense.

    You can’t have it all. Flying in general has never been so cheap as it is nowadays. Those wishing the old times back, do you also wish the old tariffs back like they were when noone even heard about so called LCCs? I doubt you do so.

  6. Yet another “greedy airline” themed post, and the usual comments about corporate greed and need for regulation. Be careful what you wish for.

    United’s profit margins have been hovering around 5-6%. That’s pretty low, and certainly doesn’t seem greedy. Liberal fanboy favorite Apple has profit margins exceeding 20%, where is the outrage about their greed? Oh yeah, Apple supports your political causes, so they are ok, but airlines are evil fossil fuel slurping big corporations. BTW, I can’t figure out how you elitist leftists reconcile your party’s anti-fossil fuel stance with your obscene amount of travel. Obviously you are very deft at rationalizing doing whatever makes you feel good.

    Ticket prices are at inflation adjusted historical lows. That indicates to me that it’s a highly competitive, commoditized business. United’s economy product has to compete against low cost carriers. Price is most important factor for most people, despite elitists like you and commenters here calling them stupid for doing so.

    If they don’t densify they simply couldn’t compete. So quit your whining and lose some weight if you want to be more comfortable in coach, or pay for first…or stay home and reduce your carbon footprint like your leaders are always telling us plebes to do.

  7. I’m speaking as a semi-retired writer with limited income who considers every angle to minimize cost and maximize convenience and comfort related to the four or five times I fly per year (usually two, this year three times internationally).
    So… while I respect the airlines’ need to realize a fair profit, as the person with his butt in increasingly narrow seats and my mere 5-7 frame cramped by ever-deceasing seat pitch, something has to give. I’ve already moved away from American toward Delta, even if it costs a bit more. I like the extra options, how ever limited they may be.
    Just like life’s too short to drink cheap (as opposed to inexpensive) wine, it’s too short to endure hours of growing discomfort in an environment created by, as best I can tell, give-a shit- airlines, and enabled by clueless infrequent consumers who don’t bother to do even the slightest bit of due diligence.
    Hope I haven’t come across as too judgmental.

  8. Delta seems to be competing quite well with nine across 777-200s. The 18.5 inches of width in coach is great. If UA can’t compete its not because of the seats on the 777-300. AA had an advantage with its MCE cabin on 777-300, but gave that up. Unfortunately with DL the B class seat on the 777-200 is pretty bad. I hope DL updates its 777 B class seats (a good old Super Diamond would be nice) when it adds PE to these aircraft. I thought competition was supposed to provide consumers with more for less not less for more.

  9. @WR you don’t have a clue what actual liberals believe, only this Fox/Breitbart/Ronnie Reagan caricature of the fragile snowflake which is just your own soft ego being projected onto others. As a proud liberal, the profit Apple makes on their phone is outrageous and their tax avoidance should be criminal. Apple is even greedier than the airlines and as a result I refuse to use their phones. I’ve never owned an iPhone, but if you’re an American then chances are you’re using one regardless of your political affiliation. Apple’s crazy profits needs to be taxed higher and the airlines need to be more regulated. Regulation is the ONLY way to solve this kind of issue where airlines just make everything worse and customers are too price sensitive to really vote with their dollars. If it’s a race to the bottom, then build a floor and make the greedy corporate bastards compete by making their product better, not more profitable.

  10. Yeah the illiterate doesn’t know that republicans gave apple the biggest tax cut. That’s the thing about stupid fuck illiterate republicans, they talk like they know their shit. Goes top down from trump. No science background but will talk like they have PHDs.

  11. @Ray thank you for pointing this out. I find the right’s assumption of the simplicity of the left, and also the blatant disregard for more people’s way of thinking to be shocking. Not that there aren’t dumb liberals, for sure, I just usually find that my conservative friends are less likely to even listen to my point of view, even my most informed if it doesn’t align with what Alex Jones and his ilk say of what we liberals are like.

    @WR I do think you have a point about reregulation, that if it happened we’d have a lot of unintended consequences. Travel would become a lot more expensive and we’d move to the days of flying as a luxury. Not sure I think that’s bad, but definitely would be a hard issue to wade through.

    @WR and @Ray, the point though is that while United’s profit margins are slim, I have to wonder if there is fat in the budget that could be trimmed to improve that number, instead of going after passenger comfort. Its like basic E, it doesn’t really help anyone but the airlines, and their entire reasoning is so blatantly false, all they’re doing is extracting more money from the consumer who doesn’t have a choice when there are only a few choices compared to 10 years ago. Lowering value may work in the short term but not long. Like @WR’s point about Apple, Apple has tried its best to keep quality high and create desirable products (let’s not judge but it tries to innovate), United and AA aren’t innovating, they’re just looking at the average consumer as a cash cow to be milked until its dry. That’s the problem with moves like this. Its not accompanied by more 1st or better rewards for their loyal fliers, no, its just making economy less of a fun time for us all.

  12. –Agree with Mark 100%. Someday the drive to the bottom will come back to haunt the greedy airlines. However, I think if they were smart and greedy, they would do something to keep their customer base.

    –Laughed at Helios. He likes “slimline” seats. Somehow that reminds me of the current Direct TV commercial. Maybe he also likes preshaken soda, being kicked in an airline seat by a kid, being hit by a grocery cart, sitting in gum, walking into a glass window.

    –Howard Miller. “REREGULATION”. Yea right. Try some Amtrak. Government controls and crony capitalism go hand in hand.

    –Pointizz. Are you trolling a little bit. This is a points and luxury flying blog. Of course, we will complain when they sc**w us over. What do you expect? We will bend over grab our knees and say thank you, please give me another.

    –WR. Several comments. (1) The 5-6% in a fantastic flight market might be evidence that the most profitable customers are avoiding United. (2) Liberal fanboy’s used to love Apple when it was losing market share to Microsoft and looked like it is going out of business. Now there is lots of criticism of Apple out there (see Ray). (3) BTW, politicians have started holding hearings about Apple. To make this little investigation go away, Apple will increasingly have to contribute to politicians. That is how it is done. Have you every noticed how McCain used to lead hearing on defense contractors, conveniently closing them when they donated to his campaign and interests. As I said, that is how it is done. Crooked on both side of the aisle. And every day, government grows and get more disgusting.

    –Bill Dwyer. Two thumbs up. When I was a young man, I did not understand why anyone would pay an extra $1,000 for Premium economy on long flights (like the former defunct JFK-BKK 17 hour flight). Now that I am older, don’t recover as quickly from being jammed into a seat. I would go for it in an instant.

    –Ray. “Fox/Breitbart/Ronnie Reagan” “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.“ Hey, I have some books you might like. Little red book of Chairman Mao. Maybe the Communist Manifesto. Just remember, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” Moreover, without “greedy corporate bastards” that will happen right away.

    –Credit. Well, I would comment on what you said, but I give you an A+ on your somewhat cynical comments on women elsewhere. Guessing there is a divorce (or something like that) in there, so I will give you a pass.

  13. @WR… your post is just ridiculous. If you like United then keep flying them. Happy flying. United has decided to compete for the Spirit customer and they don’t have Spirit’s cost structure so if their margins are so low it’s their own stupidity. BTW, Southwest seems to be doing just fine financially and they don’t appear to have the need to install back breaking, butt bruising slimline seats.

    I guess Apple isn’t just for liberal fanboys because the new tax bill will allow them to bring back $253 billion from overseas and barely pay any taxes on it.

  14. @Johathan. Seriously, the liberal media (you know people like you), spent the last year arguing that Trump won because the Russians “hacked” the election (only a dumbo would have bet on Trump, everyone, including the Russians, knew Hillary was a lock). And you think anyone that does not agree with you is a conspiracy theorist. I really think that the liberals like you are increasingly logically and factually challenged.

  15. Anyone else sick and tired of the right wing offensiveness? And blindness? PS. A flight to Costa Rica used to take 6 hours. Now it takes 14. I don’t think it has moved. Nor has LAX. And is three times the price. How is that cheaper than it has ever been?

  16. Gary. PLEASE. It’s a travel blog.

    Can you PLEASE moderate the MORON TRUMPTYDUMPTIES (I’d say moderate the other side too, but I don’t see them whining all over your blog).

    Much of the info gleaned from these blogs comes from comments. Having to wade though all these knuckle dragging, mouth breathing angry white man posts that are totally irrelevant to anything is not going to help readership in the long run.

    @WR not a single Republican or Liberal is whining about their Apple stock are they? Oh and they (Apple/Google/MS/Samsung) also produce a product that is a lot more fun to use than a UA Y seat.
    Go troll somewhere else.

  17. About Vic22ria & Peter. In your face insulting and creepy. Then, when called out, they ask for censorship. LOL. VicPet, join ANTIFA. Put on a mask. Beat up a conservative. Go for it. I know you want to.

  18. And, this is a microcosm of the problems with this country. We all have to be labeled and all have to be judged by that label. You know, some things I’m a little more liberal in my thinking and other things I’m a little more conservative. But, bottom line, because of said labels, nobody is listening to anybody but those who agree with us. This country is going to shit and we all are to blame.

  19. @Other Just Saying, you make my point so well that’s all we ever need to say. I really appreciate it. Keep up the good inflammatory work.

  20. @Gary. Actually, some moderating wouldn’t hurt. I am here for a travel blog and from time to time in topic political discussions make sense. For example, I found your blogs about Cuba, and the responses to be very interesting. Many of your readers have traveled to Cuba and had well informed opinions, even if I did not always agree with them.

    However, in my comments, every now and then, I cannot resist responding to broad based ad hominem attacks against all conservatives. Responding is kind of a waste of my brain power to be honest. If you start do start moderating, you might begin by putting in **** for comments such as “MORON TRUMPTYDUMPTIES”, or “knuckle dragging, mouth breathing angry white man”, “right wing offensiveness”, “Fox/Breitbart/Ronnie Reagan caricature” and “Alex Jones and his ilk say”.

  21. @other
    I know I’m just feeding a troll but you do realize my comments were in direct response to WR who went on the generalization attack, don’t you? I’m happy you feel yourself important enough to be the shining beacon of defense for other posters. Why did I pick WR? No reason, his was just the drop in my bucket that overflowed.

    I personally am SICK of the color of the sky, or the width of an airplane, or the cost of a phone becoming a political issue. I’d like to read about travel and frequent flying on this blog. If I need a$$holes (including myself) talking garbage politics, I can always count on Facebook or the WaPo comment section.

    Now kindly crawl back under your bridge.

  22. Peter. Excuse me. I voted for Trump along with 63MM other people and most likely about half of Gary’s audience. Therefore, you putting me in the class of MORON TRUMPTYDUMPTIES. Now you are calling me a Troll. Such arrogance and condescension. However, if you apologize for calling me names, I will apologize for my posts.

    As for WR, I disagree, his comments weren’t that far off of topic.

    As for Gary, I actually love this post. His post tell me to avoid flying United, or at least check very carefully which plane I am flying on. I hate slimline seats and denser configurations. I never thought a CEO could be worse than Jeff Smisek, but Scott Kirby and Doug Parker may be worse. I come to Gary’s post every day, because I do not want to miss the continuing bad news. Hopefully, one day, the news will be good, but I am not holding my breath.

  23. @other. After a year of watching that buffoon you’re still proud to have voted that way.

    Yeah, no, go ahead and take the insults for yourself. You and 63m others earned it.

  24. Only one row of economy plus is being converted to plain economy (1 row or 6 seats), eliminating a closet (allows 3 regular seats), 1 bathroom (another 3 economy m), half of the door 2 galley (allowing 5 exit row Econ plus seats at door 2 – one row of 3 and one row of 2) and shifting of over wing exits (adding an additional 2 Econ plus on each side). Total of 21 seats. There ya go. No pitch being reduced at all. In fact, they’re INCREASING economy plus by a net of 3, as United sells all exit rows as economy plus.

    United is one of the few that still has random closet space and auxiliary galleys on their planes and that hasn’t gutted every ounce of space for seats. They’re finally catching up with AA and DL on that front.

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