United Airlines Is Finally Refreshing The Inside Of Its Planes With New TV Screens And Fast Internet

Before United Airlines committed to a huge order for widebody jets at the end of 2022, they placed a major order for smaller narrowbody planes last summer and announced a plan to upgrade the interiors of their existing aircraft, too.

United promised that their domestic and short haul international planes would offer,

  • more premium seats
  • seatback entertainment screens with bluetooth for headphones
  • seat power and larger overhead bins
  • fast wifi

Dubbed United NEXT, the fleet plan was ambitious and positioned the airline as a more premium airline. And then… nothing happened. A year and a half passed and they didn’t actually do any of the retrofitting of their existing planes. There was hand waving about supply chain.

Finally though that’s about to change, with the first United planes into the shop for a NEXT retrofit, as first reported by aviation watchdog JonNYC.

American Airlines doesn’t offer seat back screens. United will, matching Delta.

Delta and American both have fast inflight wifi, and Delta is making theirs free. United’s internet has been the worst-performing out of U.S. airlines, without enough bandwidth to reliably check email on many flights, let alone make it free. They’ll be changing that.

While I find that their international business class food and service lag, they offer more international destinations and more premium seats than competitors and they’re updating to a more acceptable product even in coach with more changes to escape the back of the plane. That’s generally progress for passengers.

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. To somehow think that United will transform its product because TWO aircraft go in for fleet technology updates is beyond laughable.
    Anyone that thinks that United will take delivery of more than 100 new aircraft on average with all of this new technology when there are supply chain issues that hinder the ability to retrofit older aircraft is equally laughable.
    Let’s not forget that we heard for years about how Polaris would be so industry changing and yet they are STILL retrofitting their aircraft with that seat – and they are now having to come up w/ a new product that will have doors so that they have suites like Delta now has on more than 3 dozen of its widebody aircraft.

    What United says it will do and what it actually does are considerably different.

  2. I agree United’s slow walk on the NEXT retrofits is frustrating, but it’s just as laughable to see shills boasting of Delta’s “more than 3 dozen” aircraft with D1 Suites… a product that was announced mere weeks after Polaris! In the same time (including a pandemic) United retrofit well over 130 of its widebodies…

  3. Next will come United’s new rugged Tundra Class. They’ll pull out the seats and install 5 gallon buckets to sit on.

  4. UA is the worst. AA and DL have standardized their product and I see AA with free internet very soon as well. I much prefer to bring my own device and have fast internet and power with space under the seat. Those TV boxes take up alot of underseat space and blue tooth is only on1% of DL plans so corded headsets are required on my flights.

    DL tends to hype themselves up and delivers but just barely. AA is starting to climb out of the USAir nightmare and UA is still third world. With SWA a nightmare and Jet Blue/Spirit merging I think we will see DL and AA leading the way for a while.

  5. GKK,
    Delta NEVER said that Delta One Suites would be the norm for their fleet.
    Delta has been very careful about using the right kind of aircraft for the right market. The A350s are predominantly Pacific aircraft with transatlantic partner gateways thrown in.
    The A330-900s are predominantly being used in competitive and longer haul transatlantic as well as the few non-A350 transpacific markets.
    Both of those aircraft have D1 Suites w/ doors – again, something neither AA or UA have placed on ANY aircraft.

    None of which changes the fact that, we have heard for years about the supply chain issues which have slowed UA’s rollout of Polaris – which they stated they intended to install across their entire widebody fleet.
    They are now making lofty promises of fleet wide technology upgrades and there simply is not the supply chain capacity to do what UA says it will do on top of the retrofits that every other airline is doing.

    Tell us when UA gets 200 aircraft retrofitted and takes delivery of 200 new aircraft w/ all of these features and then they will begin to move into the same league that B6 and DL were in years ago.

  6. Having in seat entertainment is why I look to book myself/others on Delta Airlines. I bring my own devises but often prefer not to use them on a plane. I give credit to United Airlines for making plans to retrofit and install in seat entertainment, however if it takes a decade to install it makes little difference. American Airlines on the other hand seems to go against what people ask for. I mean really, if AA really wants to further diminish their brand, they’re doing a fantastic job racing to the bottom.

  7. @TimDunn you are quite the DL apologist while ignoring the facts.

    UA’s entire widebody fleet sans 767-400 has the same exact seat.
    With DL, you still have those 767-300 which are plenty and are a horrible experience, and A330s which are terrible, along with those Latam A350s which again are terrible.

    If you’re trying to make an argument that UA has an inconsistent fleet, you’re out of your mind.
    UA also has more premium cabin seats than any other US airline (I’m looking at you, AA with your shitty 20 seats on the 788).

    We can debate service and onboard experience all day long, but widebody aircraft consistency is not where UA is weak at the moment.

    And oh, I flew on a DL 738 that was horrible and didn’t have nice seats. So there. Get a life.

  8. To compare Delta (and any other US carrier), with other international worldwide carriers – it would be unrealistic.
    They are planets and universes away from making top 20 / 30 among top worlds airlines.
    Among the top 3 domestic, (UA,DL, AA), there is no competition beacuse one is constantly behind the 8-ball (AA), while the other two are making minimal improvements based on domestic travelers’ needs.
    Comments on the US low cost carriers – not worth of wasting unlimited data.
    It is great what the UA and DL has to offer to the gringo/domestic travel.

  9. I only fly United and I don’t do much international travel but seat back entertainment is the least of my worries.

    Maybe that sounds important for the Carnival Cruise Lines crowd in Group 3, but I just want overhead space and to not be subjected to old, loud, uncomfortable planes like hideous 737-800s or 757s.

    Also transatlantic economy is the same amount of seat space as domestic, and that is criminal.

    Night and day experience between a new 737-Max and the old 800s that they still fly around everywhere.

    I’ll take reliable internet as well.

  10. @Tim, there will be approximately 350 planes with new interiors this year (including retrofits and deliveries), quickly passing 400 in first few months of 2024. Plan to be done by 2025 still on track. They’ll get there.

  11. to be fair, the supply chain issues that have hindered NEXT is beyond United’s reasonable control, therefore not United’s fault.

  12. I think UA isn’t prioritizing their fleets right. They are starting retrofits with a fleet type that is relatively likely to retire, repeating AS’s mistake of upgrading their retired A320s before looking at their not-retired 737-800s, and DL’s mistake of upgrading their retired 777s before looking at their not-retired A330CEOs. After those airlines upgraded and retired those upgraded planes, AS lacked the cash to give their 737-800s the same 1st class seats as MAX9 and Delta couldn’t give their A330s the same ONE seats as A330NEO. and when UA’s A320s retire, it’s wasted money, will the bailout money be enough cash to upgrade their 737s and 753s? They should’ve started with the 30 MAX9s.

  13. I flew on a UA MAX 8 on Sunday that had the new Bluetooth IFE screen, so I can personally verify that things are being done. And I am not Scott Kirby’s paid shill.

  14. Looking at how long it took for UA to retrofit and roll out Polaris, 2 planes in a massive fleet of narrow bodies is not the start of something big.

  15. @shoeguy the start of ANYTHING begins with the first steps.

    I am no UA apologist (and after my non-weather related travel drama last month I’m even less of a fan of UA) but UA didn’t find itself here overnight and it’s not going to fix it quickly. I can imagine that if UA did not have the supply chain issues everyone is having and they took too many planes OOS at once to complete the retrofits everyone would be clutching their pearls and getting the vapors over how they don;t have enough planes in service to meet demand.

    @Dan I am not a Carnival Cruise Lines Group 3 passenger but I do place value on the IFE options on my flight…which is one of many reasons why I try to avoid AA. Kind of like how you value having better seats on transcon flights…which I don’t care about because if I want a larger I’ll pay for it. We all value what we value. Don’t assume that something that doesn’t matter to you doesn’t matter to others.

  16. first, quantity and quality of premium seats is not the same thing.
    Quality is subjective. The DL A330 (non -900) and B764 fleet gets average fares as high as or higher than UA’s international fleet and that is verifiable by industry data. If UA gets higher fares for its premium cabins, then it gets lower fares for its coach cabin. Since DL has, on average, more seats on its international aircraft of the same general size, DL gets more revenue per flight, also verifiable by those that have access to industry data.
    Second, as much as some want to tout the Polaris seat and the fleets that it is on, it still does not have a door -which personally doesn’t matter to me but it clearly does to some people given that UA says it is going to come up w/ a premium cabin product that has a door on it. Whether Delta has 3 dozen or more – and the DL A330 and A350 fleets keep growing – United has no seats w/ a door. NONE. Arguing about a million other things doesn’t change that reality or the fact that UA is now pursuing it.
    Third, UA is benefitting from the amount of premium cabin seats as more passengers are willing to pay for more than economy. AA and DL are both increasing the number of premium seats; the competitive situation between UA and both AA and DL is increasing in favor of less of an advantage for UA.
    Last, UA Next is a domestic product and UA is still WAY BEHIND AA and DL in average fleet size – with DL flying much more of its domestic network on its own mainline jets compared to AA and UA’s much higher use of regional jets. It is precisely because UA Is INTENDING to add so many new aircraft at the same time that it is retrofitting older aircraft that makes it very likely that they will not achieve their goals of doing both by the dates they state, simply because the supply chain cannot and will not support such a huge spike in the demand for seat back technology that will be over in a couple years.
    again, let’s see when UA achieves even a fleet with seatback AVOD the size of B6, let alone half or more of the domestic fleet size of DL.

  17. Tim Dunn, I will be laughing all the way to the bank when I see DL flying all of United’s discarded aircraft. That’s what is going to happen. Sorry for your crap!! As for AA, we all know it’s garbage which is trying to straighten up a ship, when it’s already sinking. Too little, too late. AA is pure bankrupted garbage. Live with that.

  18. @Tim Dunn
    Have you seen the performance of UAL stock recently?… If you have stock in DAL, you are paying an opportunity cost by not having them in UAL.

    United: Best network, best hubs, best mileage program, best website, most diverse and flexible fleet… do I need to go on? 🙂

  19. @Gravelly Point Guy Pot calling the kettle black there. Everybody loves to point out DL picking up used aircraft, but never mentions the swath of used a319s and 767s that UA picked up. Not to mention the fact that UA’s average fleet age is a year older than DL’s.

  20. Marco
    You and every other United fanboy would do well to look at reality and cut the incessant and false rhetoric about how good United is.
    They had a great third quarter but strangely have provided no updated 4th quarter as well as 2023 and 2024 guidance. If UAL was going to outperform they would sure be saying so.
    United’s strategy of having plenty of capacity available for summer 2022 paid off handsomely but that doesn’t translate into future returns at industry leading levels no matter how much you want to believe otherwise
    United has the oldest fleet among US airlines and lower fuel efficiency than either American and Delta, the latter of which pays substantially less for fuel because of its refinery
    A large portion of United’s order book is to replace older aircraft including hundreds of 50 passenger RJs which AA and DL started years ago. DL will be out of contract 50 seaters this year
    UA operates the world’s largest 777-200 fleet which has the lowest fuel efficiency of any wide body. Replacing 767s doesn’t get at the root issue behind UA’s low fuel efficiency
    For having such a superior network in your mind, United generates less revenue than DAL and AAL. DAL is the most valuable US airline to investors followed by LUV
    Do yourself and everyone else by being willing to acknowledge actual facts instead of parrot the incessant We are the best in everything when you are clearly not.
    Unlike you I believe it is possible for two or more to succeed but I do it based on facts

  21. in the age where everyona has a smartphone, wouldn’t free internet make sense and seat back tv’s, not?
    Am I missing something?!

  22. there are a whole lot of people including me that do not want to watch a show on my I phone. I don’t want to try to find the perfect position to see it when most airlines don’t have tablet or cell phone holders.
    And on a larger scale, United will be dead last of the big 4 at least in getting systemwide hi speed Wifi on its fleet – but we will hear endlessly how United is the best at everything.
    Delta is turning on domestic free wifi on viasat equipped aircraft -80% plus of its domestic fleet – within weeks while AA already is in good shape but has lagged in offering it ” free” B6 holds the title for now – but they are so much smaller that it matters when several of the big 4 offer extensive free onboard wifi. and 2023 will be the year that happens.
    except on United

  23. I am a UA lifer (1K) and have been through UA’s various transitions over decades. Commenter Tim Dunn here is a frequent attack dog favoring DL. Good for him. The airline business is constantly transformative and “who’s up – who’s down” is always fraught with opinion. Mr. Dunn’s running commentary is exhausting to read and reduces him to an irrelevancy.

    UA works for me. I’ve got a MM+ on AA, and just a little less than MM on DL. So I’m aware of the competition. I’m pleased with UA”s progress during the pandemic and in the last year, and I’m surely not alone.

  24. Brian
    I have never doubted that real customers make choices based on what works for them. That describes you.
    I have no tolerance for clear United employees that conflate their opinions with facts while failing to take an honest and balanced view of every discussion.
    United has done a great job navigating the pandemic but there are pluses and minuses of every airline. United’s fleet is currently old and they are spending wildly to fix strategic failures from decades ago
    And when the United fanboys talk about the greatestnetwork somehow forget they don’t fly to JFK and have fail ed to get back in there
    Nothing wrong w company pride but do it honestly and recognize others have strengths as well

  25. You can go on and on about aircraft, but DL kicks butt with their culture! Pure and simple their staff has always been better.

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