United’s New International Business Class Seat is Coming Next Year

We’ll start to see United’s new business class product in Boeing 777-300ERs that they’ll start to receive at the end of 2016.

Here’s what United is saying:

“We are heavily focussed on creating an amazing international business class” says Mark Krolick, managing director of UA’s Marketing & Product Development arm.

…”We continue to reduce the amount of long-haul first class (although) right now there are no immediate plans to retire it. But there’s not a plan to put first class on any more new deliveries.”

Krolick adds that the airline’s new BusinessFirst “is likely to be the prime cabin in the future.”

United is also looking at adding pajamas in business class.

“We’re doing a nose to tail review of our business class” confirmed Sandra Pineau-Boddison, Senior Vice-President for the airline’s Customers division, “we’re looking at duvet covers and pyjamas and what adds the most value.”

…She added that pyjamas are “luxury items when travelling on business and it’s highly likely they are going to get a lot of consideration.”

American of course will be offering pajamas on their Los Angeles – Sydney route, and Delta has plans to test pajamas on Los Angeles – Shanghai. Both carriers could expand the offering.

Krolick added to the seat discussion the obligatory “We offer a very very good product right now” and I don’t think that’s quite fair.

United currently has two different business class configurations on existing Boeing 777s:

  • A legacy Continental seat that’s fully flat, but six-across (2-2-2). Passengers in the window seat do not have access to the aisle – they may have to crawl over the person in the aisle to get up, and the person in the aisle may need to be woken if the person in the window needs to use the lavatory.

  • A legacy United seat that’s dorm-style, eight-across, which began rolling out in 2007.

The legacy Continental seat is actually reasonably competitive with Lufthansa and British Airways. It is not competitive with the newer reverse herringbone products of Delta, American, or Air France — and it doesn’t compare to the products of Cathay Pacific or EVA Air which also are similar reverse herringbone seats.

United is on record saying they’re phasing out first class and that story is consistent here — new planes don’t get it, planes that have it lose it when they’re retrofit, but they’re not currently getting rid of it from the remaining fleet that offers the cabin.

United Global First, though, becomes more and more dated. It may not even be meaningfully better than the new seats introduced in business class, though it takes up more real estate. United has let first class die on the vine with a soft product that’s virtually identical to that offered in business.

They’re investing in a new domestic first class product, improving meal service, and introducing illy coffee inflight next year.

They still need reliable wireless internet across the fleet. And a new business seat is a long way off, let alone seeing that seat in the existing fleet. And they haven’t even shown us the seat yet. But it’s good to see them on a path to be investing in product.

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. I haven’t seen any changes yet in their frequent flier unfriendly policies which keep UA from being the carrier of choice for many. I’m talking specifically about the policies of selling many cheap upgrades ahead of upgrading elite level fliers.

  2. What’s the deal with the reduction in international first class seats on domestic carriers? Is there some demographic that existed 30 years ago that doesn’t today? There are more wealthy Americans now than there ever have been before, so it’s not like the people at the top would be choosing to fly business or steerage for economic reasons. Is it that they can now afford private jets capable of crossing the oceans? I’m not asking these questions rhetorically; I’m really curious as to why the carriers believe that the space no longer needs to exist.

  3. @ Nick: as a UA Lifetime Premier Gold, I personally love that UA gives me the option to upgrade for reduced prices in advance of a flight. Only Global Services and even a fraction of 1K passengers normally get upgrades with any consistency, so the availability of revenue for upgrades is good for people like me and for the UA bottom line. Either way, it’s far superior to the DL system where you must pay up to a particular fare class or even pay up to upgrade or even just look forward to a comp’d upgrade to Comfort+ now instead of BusinessElite.

  4. So any real news about the seat, which after all is the most critical component of business class? I could really care less about PJs, I’m not about to don them in a metal tube full of strangers. Slightly less useful than the amenity kits.

    One huge improvement would be “on demand” food service for those of us who don’t want to eat after takeoff but get hungry halfway through the flight. Of course that would require the FAs to actually work the entire flight…

  5. I also am super curious about the new seat details. My hopes:

    (1) 1-2-1 or otherwise provide all-aisle access
    (2) 75-78″ pitch to allow for taller passengers
    (3) duvet to allow for more comfortable bed/sleep
    (4) better IFE screens and/or ability to incorporate iPad IFE
    (5) a bit more privacy/suite ambience

    I also could care less about fancy amenity kits or pajamas. I just want a very comfortable seat that becomes a very comfortable lie-flat bed sufficient for me at 6’2″ and my husband at 6’5″.

    Adding aisle access to all BusinessFirst seats would be a HUGE plus that largely makes the aging GF less of an issue–since aisle access and a bit more pitch really are the only major differences now between BF and GF. All-aisle access also brings UA to the same international standard as with the best foreign carriers in F and J.

  6. Welcome the new Buz Class seat because I fly with United International Buz Class only and those backward seats are rather uncomfortable, having to see another pax.

  7. A little off topic, but I just want to point out that the term is “I couldn’t care less.” Two commenters above said “I could care less” and that just drives me crazy. Think about it for a second and you’ll realize that what you mean to say is that you could NOT care less.

  8. Dear Boraxo, that option already exists on international flights. You can eat what you want when you want. And, by the way, we work all night. Wanna spend one month in our shoes? A United Airlines FA.

  9. LONG overdue – 1-2-1 seating layout or every seat with aisle access.
    Or staggered a la Emirates
    Or reverse herringbone a la Virgin Atlantic and Air Canada
    I could care less about forward or rear facing as long as every seat has access to aisles or amenity bags etc.
    Thank God Smisek is out or I’m sure he would have ordered more 2-4-2 seating !

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