In summer 2021 United Airlines announced a new domestic cabin interior for the new planes they were ordering, and committed to retrofit existing planes to their new standard.
This would mean more premium seats; seatback entertainment screens with bluetooth for headphones; seat power and larger overhead bins; and fast wifi.
While it’s taken them a long time to get started replacing current cabins with new ones, the first plane – a 25 year old Airbus A319, registration N801UA – is in the shop for the retrofit.
According to aviation watchdog JonNYC the project will finish in less than 3 weeks, and then 25 year old Airbus A320 registration N438UA goes in for work. Together these two will serve as prototypes for their respective fleets. Jon has a photo of the retrofit in process:
looks like it's still pretty early on this: pic.twitter.com/c2BO33WBaP
— 🇺🇦 JonNYC 🇺🇦 (@xJonNYC) January 31, 2023
As he notes, the cabin will look familiar to United regulars who have flown on new delivery Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft over the past year.
there have been some questions about those nets– these NEXT seats are same Recaro seats only difference is they added the screen and new tray table– as you can see from this pic, same seats: pic.twitter.com/aetJKFgcML
— 🇺🇦 JonNYC 🇺🇦 (@xJonNYC) February 2, 2023
Dubbed United NEXT, the fleet plan was ambitious and positioned the airline as a more premium airline. While slow to get started, United’s plan going forward is aggressive: convert 175 domestic aircraft in 2023. That seems aggressive, but is actually a scaled back ambition from 200 planes, and is tied to a specific plan. It could still slip, but having over 300 planes including new aircraft with the new interior in service this year is a real possibility.
The new interior addresses a deficiency versus Delta and advantage over American in terms of screens, and a catch up with both American and Delta in terms of internet. Addressing internet bandwidth will make it possible for United to match Delta and JetBlue with free inflight wifi as well, something that CEO Scott Kirby said was in the cards before the pandemic – but that isn’t possible with the technology in their current fleet.