A Leaked Look At The New United Airlines Domestic Interior

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:

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.

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.

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. They need to get rid of that tight netting that can barely hold an iPad and provide a larger space to hold your personal items.

  2. I really think AA is doing things right. I travel a lot and would strongly prefer to have an ipad holder so I can comfortably stream whatever I want to on my own device, with my own earphones, without ads, rather than have to pick from a small selection of movies and shows provided by the airline.

  3. Those seats are different than NEXT MAX seats because pre-Oasis, their A320s had Recaro tl begin with. It will be interesting to see how their next 737NGs and 753s will turn out, because throughout those fleets, all have Pinnacle seats but there are four seatback designs within the NG & 753 fleet.

  4. You would think that United could have figured out how to get the wifi to work on their regional fleets by now.

    But you would be wrong.

  5. Using 25 year old A319s and A320s for the prototypes says alot about United’s fleet and network plans.
    They not only expect those fleets to stay in service for at least 3 to 5 more years – which is very likely possible – but also that UA’s status of having the oldest fleet among US airlines won’t change near as much as some think if they use such a high proportion of new aircraft for growth rather than replacement.
    In addition, United’s aspirations of yield and revenue growth are very likely inflated if they will put this much additional capacity into their own hubs. United’s hub metros are the most competitive among the big 4 which means that they will be adding alot of capacity in their own markets which will likely be matched by other carriers. Even if they try to “target” flow capacity, other airlines will aggressively be protecting their share which is why large capacity additions have always been profit negative for US airlines.
    UA is spending more than AA and DL combined on fleet spending and more than just about the entire rest of the US airline industry combined. That much fleet spending is going to increased UA’s indebtedness and aircraft ownership and leasing costs to levels that no US airline has ever seen.
    Further, UA says it will continue to try to maintain a large regional jet fleet including its CRJ550s which are the least cost efficient aircraft for US airlines on a per seat basis. No airline including UA is expecting the regional carrier employee situation to be resolved this year which means that UA could see a significant increase of RJ capacity in a year or two as the pilot supply improves.
    Finally, UA’s ability to have even 300 aircraft with seatback video at the end of the year is highly dependent on supply chain constraints that UA is very unlikely to overcome. let’s see what UA accomplishes at the end of the year.
    And even if 300 narrowbody aircraft have high speed wifi and seatback AVOD, that is still a minority of UA’s fleet which means they won’t be able to market anything w/ consistency and won’t be able to gain a competitive advantage for at least another year more – or longer.

  6. Much prefer the AA set up, fast internet and phone/tablet holders, more space and I don’t have to synch up my headphone or plug in (DL). Plus AA live TV and other entertainment are superior to what UA or DL offers. Plus without the “box” under the seat, leg and storage is vastly superior on AA. Frankly, Kirby was running the AA refit and over promised and under delivered. The new AA management is doing more testing and making improvements (can anyone say Kodiak and Premium Economy – which I still think should be called Ambassador Class as a nod to TWA :)) UA domestically isn’t even a choice.

  7. @TimDunn: An ancient fleet never held Delta back. Until fairly recently, the vast majority of their fleet was absolutely geriatric. Yet they retrofitted and meticulously maintained that older fleet and most passengers never knew the difference. I’d certainly rather fly on an 18 year old retrofitted UA or DL aircraft than a 2 year old AA sardine can.

    On the other hand, UA needs to deal with it’s regional airlines. Some of their aircraft are old, worn, lack wifi and simply provide a bad impression of an otherwise solid airline. For example, I ended up booked on a dreaded CRJ-200 r/t ORD-DAY provided by Air Wisconsin (seemingly a pretty lowball operation). Well, not only was that thing cramped, worn and lacking in wifi – it also had massive delays in each direction. That is a problem for UA, as I fly mainline with them a ton and it’s literally been years without being delayed more than 10 minutes or so. The new interior looks awesome and should position the airline a more premium product – but they can’t forget about the huge regional fleet, a good percentage of which is crap (though not the E175s).

  8. I really don’t care about seatback entertainment on domestic flights. I think AA will actually be proven right on this one.

  9. I find it strange for United Airlines to retrofit a 25 year old plane first. I find their ambitions to retrofit 275-300 planes a year quite lofty. I guess they’ll use their magic wand to make all of this happen. I do give United credit for wanting to retrofit their entire fleet. As for AA, they’re still the worst and don’t appear as if that is going to change anytime soon. In seat entertainment is for the rest of us that don’t want to travel with their iPads, tablets. It is also much more convenient and it shows that United is actually trying to better their product, however, in the meantime, I will still be a loyal Delta customer.

  10. Whoever invented seat back screens where the idiot behind you can tap tap their way throughout the night on a cross country or transatlantic flight needs taken out and tortured. It’s insane. The reason I won’t fly coach with any airline stupid enough to think this doesn’t cause air rage. Bern there. Witnessed it. Been subjected to the tappers behind me. No thanks. I’ll travel flat bed or business or not at all.

  11. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one. You really have to be stupid, ignorant and shortsighted to think United will still have an older fleet than DL with over 700 plus new aircraft joining your fleet, vis a vis, the age of its existing aircraft which , for the most part, is years younger than DL’s. DL has the LARGEST and oldest 757, 767, A320 and 717’s sub fleets in the entire industry. Period , FULL Stop. Not only will United end up having eclipsed DL in this matter, it will also leapfrog AA and end up no 1 in terms of younger airplanes. Let’s not forget the REAL number of aircraft AA has that’s are 20 plus years old, just check out their A320, A319 and parts of their B737 sub fleets.You guys would be surprised!

  12. stogie and GPG,
    I have repeatedly said that fleet age doesn’t matter; airplanes are merely assets to generate revenue and DL has done a better job than any other US airline than maximizing revenue relative to fleet related spending – and that is confirmable from published data.
    However, the simple confirmable fact is that UA’s average fleet age at 16.9 years is 2 years older than DL’s. Delta also hundreds of aircraft on order and is delivery of half or more of the aircraft per year than UA is taking. The math simply doesn’t work for UA to overtake DL’s fleet age unless either starts replacing significant numbers of aircraft. The only indication we have from either is that the 737MAXs at DL will replace the A320s which are a fairly small fleet but also their oldest.
    Do you realize that UA’s 319fleet is the same age as DL’s 717s and the UA A320s are 3 years older? DL and UA’s 757/767 fleets are similarly aged and UA has about 2/3 of the total number of those fleets than DL has. UA’s fleet age won’t go down until it starts replacing its oldest aircraft.
    The fact that it is retrofitting its A319 and A320 fleets, UA’s fleet age won’t start to drop relative to DL.
    And DL’s fleet is considerably more fuel efficient – about 7.5 – heavily driven by Delta’s much more fuel efficient international/widebody fleet and UA’s use of much larger numbers of the 777 – which is less efficient than the A350/A330 in all versions at DL as well UA’s much larger use of regional jets. DL also pays less for fuel per gallon because of its refinery while UA pays the most among the big 4.
    DL also has much more efficient maintenance than any of the big 4 and spends less on aircraft ownership/lease costs than AA or UA.
    On the fleet related metrics that matter, UA is a long ways from overtaking DL if they ever do.

  13. Will UA only need one prototype for the A319s? I feel like before NEXT, the A319 fleet has some inconsncies (albeit not as inconsistens heir 737NG fleet). Ex-CZ A319s have a differemt lavatory config than PMUA A319s and some ex-CZ already have power outlets for the standard economy seats unlike UA’s and other ex-CZ A319s

  14. “For example, I ended up booked on a dreaded CRJ-200 r/t ORD-DAY provided by Air Wisconsin”

    Fortunately, most of my UA regional flights have shifted from low-# CRJs to the Embraer 175 — one of my favorite planes.

  15. @DeltaDunn must be terrified of United the way he keeps repeating his talking points. Could it be possible that the guys who actually run an airline know more than one who pretends to?

  16. could it be that someone actually reads financial statements and not blabber corporate talking points?
    Is UA’s fleet older than any other US airline or not?
    Is it fact or not that UAL’s capex plan is more than AAL and DAL’s combined based on their most recent investor guidance?
    If my statement is correct, then all the rest of what you or others say simply doesn’t matter.

  17. “Is UA’s fleet older than any other US airline or not?”

    At the moment. However, UA has a boatload of aircraft on order. Not sure about your math there regarding how things will look in 5 years. Seems like UA has this figured out. And, as I said before, the age of the aircraft is of no matter if the aircraft is well maintained and modernized where needed. Something UA is clearly prioritizing.

    Look out Delta, United is here for your lunch! 😀

  18. the problem that you and everyone else that wants to tout a single airline is that you think that your airline and your airline alone is making any changes.
    United does have a boatload of aircraft on order but Delta has about half the number, has a 2 year younger fleet, and United itself has said it is not retiring some of its oldest and least fuel efficient fleets. They have specifically said they intend to grow – which might make United larger but it doesn’t reduce the average age of their fleet near as much as they replace aircraft. Delta has also said little about fleet replacement but the only indication is that the A320s are getting near the end of their life and will be replaced by the MAX10s which Delta has on order.
    And speaking of MAX10s, the increased efficiency that United expects to get out of its fleet replacement will come from taking larger numbers of those aircraft than other airlines. The MAX10 is still smaller and less capable than the A321NEO which AA and DL and other low cost carriers are already flying. UA is playing catchup with large narrowbodies. And the MAX 10 is still not certified. Boeing will prioritize getting the MAX 7 certified for Southwest first which means there might not be any MAX 10s this year at all.
    As for finances, United had one strong quarter where it did significantly better than other airlines – the 3rd quarter of 2022. Delta specifically reduced capacity to get its operation back on track – they still managed to be the most reliable US airline for 2022 based on current DOT data – but intend to regrow in 2023 which will significantly improve their finances. WN has been hindered because of the MAX 7 delays. Both DL and WN will see significant improvement in their finances as they restore capacity – which they have not been able to do as fast as United.
    And AA is simply hitting it out of the park as they have not done for years. AA reported margins much closer to DL and UA than the rest of the industry – including WN – in the 4th quarter – and that is expected to grow. I have long said that AA’s problem is that it has not gotten rid of its money losing flying – heavily the Pacific, continental Europe, and its underperforming hubs esp. ORD and PHL. AA itself said they shifted 5% of its weakest flying to its strongest routes and hubs and the results have been astonishing. AA is also paying off lots of debt very quickly so the arguments about their balance sheet are quickly becoming old, dated news.
    OTOH, UA is spending so much on fleet that there is no way that they can avoid the same balance sheet mess that AA went through for a decade. No US airline makes enough money to take on that much new fleet spending w/o raising their debt or leasing costs significantly. Let’s not forget that Kirby might not have been at AA when they placed the original massive order but he was there as most of it was delivered and he placed (or asked that AA place) multiple new aircraft orders. He is doing the same thing at UA – he has shiny jet syndrome. If people can’t see how much he influenced AA’s fleet and balance sheet strategies and is doing the same thing at UA, then they simply don’t want to see the evidence. UA under Kirby just as he was at AA makes alot of decisions based on status; let’s not forget that he has been at UA for years and they are finally admitting that their Pacific system – like AA’s lost alot of money which UA too didn’t correct – heavily because of perceived market status. in contrast, DL was #2 across the Pacific and consistently made money flying the Pacific for years when AA and UA did not.

    UA is improving – all of the big 4 are getting stronger at the expense of the rest of the industry. Global traffic is soaring and US carriers look better relative to other global carriers from other countries than they have for years; but Delta already has a lower cost, more fuel efficient international fleet and is growing internationally and has plenty of widebodies due for delivery. American and Southwest are both setting up to not just be more efficient but also have stronger balance sheets than United.

    So, there is nothing wrong w/ recognizing what UA is doing – but far too many people fail to appreciate what other airlines are doing and how what one airline does in context.

    UA is returning to its position as middle of the pack in terms of financial performance – and might slip to the lower end of the pack among the big 4 just because the rest of the industry is also improving but will do so at a faster rate while UA will pay a high price for waiting so long to modernize its fleet. The short term gain it got from holding onto older aircraft will be overshadowed by the much higher cost of finally addressing fleet issues which other airlines already started working on years ago or have completed to a much greater degree than United.

  19. Former UA Purchasing Agent (IFE)
    The UA Inflight Marketing Dept likes to spend money on frivolous projects. Their research is flawed. AA has the perfect perspective on Inflight Entertainment Equipment. These days most people have smartphones, tablets and laptops that provide the means of entertainment , however UAL Marketing still thinks that their surveys are accurate enough to show popularity in seat back screens. This will be $100m down the drain. Seatback systems are superfluous on domestic flights.

  20. Agree with the comments regarding seat back video. It’s expensive, it adds weight and there are the maintenance costs. As mentioned, I would rather have a phone or tablet holder to watch the movies I’ve loaded or can stream off of their Wi-Fi.

  21. Seat back entertainment doesn’t cost as much, weigh as much, or need as much maintenance as it used to. They used to run wires throughout the cabin to each screen. Now they can transmit wirelessly to each device mounted to a seatback.

  22. and if you fly on airlines that offer it, more than 2/3 of the people on flights even as short as 90 minutes have it on, esp. if there is live TV.
    As much as people argue that seatback AVOD is unnecessary, United is doing what it is doing because of feedback from customers that have had access to it for years on Delta and JetBlue.
    Given how competitive United’s markets are with Southwest and American, UA was looking for a product distinction and is investing in AVOD.
    The issue is not whether AVOD is worth it but how long it will take United to get enough aircraft with it to make a difference in their customer perception.

  23. Last night flew AA transcon on their nice A321T in Business. Even though it had full and fantastic load of entertainment, the rather obnoxious pax next to me wanted to use his own device…but there was no place to put it. He had no problem invading my space for his pad set-up….which further convinced me that AA has the right and cost-effective strategy. Free AA entertainment galore on your own device, with holders designed for your devices, or watch your own entertainment on your device using the same specially designed holders. It’s more freedom of choice…simple!

    As for fleet age, etc, and the constant argument that DL is best of the best…the chest thumping is so tiresome, making you want to just ignore his comments, even those times when quite reasonable.

  24. The seats look like pure torture terrible how the seat backs don’t conform to a humans back at all .
    the spacing is so tight no one tall can fit. To move to the inside of a row of seats you have to crab the seat back in front upsetting the passenger in front. The FAA does what ever industry wants so no consumer concerns just packed in cattle

  25. It’s content, not the hardware in 2023 that matters. Phones today are 10 times better than 10 years ago. Long haul is different and there’s a value. But from Dallas to Omaha ? Who cares. I much prefer and value power and a device holder. At first I thought what a waste of money on UAs part. But when it’s free, you are the product. So Get ready for more ads. They wouldn’t do it if there was not something to made.

  26. @MGW…you work for AA, right? lol. No one wants to stream to their own device. We want the airline to provide in-seat entertainment. Why in the world would i bring an iPad when the airline can install a screen in the seat? Also, I will be using my MacBook to game or work while watching a movie on the in-seat screen – I don’t want to have to tie up my personal device with entertainment when I can use the one built-in to the seat. When my meal comes, I can use my tray table for my food and beverage while continuing to enjoy the content on the seatback screen. Streaming to personal devices was always a cheap move that pax rejected. Nice to see United making the course correction. Bye bye, American (from an Exec Platinum)!

  27. Somebody please help me understand this. United’s A320, A319, 757 and 767 aircraft are some of the oldest IN THE WORLD! It make’s absolutely no sense to me why they would invest in retrofitting the interiors of these planes when many of them have already reached or surpassed the maximum fuselage cycle count. Some of the A320’s have well over 70,000 cycles. This is ridiculous. The 767-200’s are barely airworthy. Come on United, get your act together.

  28. I left American (as an Exec Platinum) in 2022 due to their removal of seat-back entertainment. I’m now a United FF, specifically due to their current retrofit and fleet additions bringing seat-back screens to the entire fleet. We have to vote with our dollars to reward moves like United’s and punish American’s disdain for customer satisfaction.

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