United has been slow to roll out their Polaris business class seats. Those seats were never close to industry leading. The innovation was providing a fully flat seat with direct aisle access, configured not to take up more space per passenger than the old business seat.
In other words, United was behind American and Delta in business class even as they were introducing the new seat. However it was set to take years to actually put in place. As other airlines continue to spruce up business class, for instance more carriers offer suites with doors, the new Polaris seat falls further behind – and that’s before accounting for all of the cuts to business class soft product.
United’s Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 fleet – the latter which flies United’s longest flights to places like Sydney, Singapore, and Capetown – have still had the old Diamond 2-2-2 seats that most passengers with a choice avoid.
We finally have a look into United’s retrofit plans for these aircraft, via LA Flyer. This is a generally credible source, but not official, and my only skepticism is that I have a hard time imagining United offering so few lavatories to coach passengers on long haul flights as this plan implies.
— LAflyer (@LAflyr) December 12, 2019
Still, with airline President Scott Kirby set to become CEO in May the retrofit details should come as little surprise.
Seth Miller examines the details and points out as the airline updates the business class seats and adds premium economy, that United is:
- Squeezing economy
- Reducing Economy Plus
- Tightening up the lavatory situation
787-8s Lose Business Class Seats, Coach Legroom, and Bathrooms
United’s 787-8s will drop business class from 36 to 28 seats. There will be 21 premium economy seats. And they’re added 11 coach seats even as they also add Premium Economy, while dropping the number of economy plus seats in half. So much for Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella’s pitch that the airline was committed to more economy plus seats to reward elite frequent flyers.
Miller also suggests that “pitch will be reduced in the rear section of the plane.”
Meanwhile United is dropping the mid-cabin lavatories on the 787-8s in coach, and dropping the number of business class lavatories by one as well. Premium economy passengers will be walking all the way to the back of coach.
Ultra Long Range 787-9s Lose A Lot of Economy Plus
The 787-9s will keep the same 48 business class seats while United adds 3 rows of premium economy. Economy Plus drops in half from 88 seats down to 42, while regular economy bumps up by 30 seats. United is adding premium economy to the aircraft, which takes up more room, yet they still manage to increase total seating on plane. They’re adding 24 seats to the plane even though the new business seat doesn’t take up more room.
As part of this densification, United is eliminating the rear lavatories on the 787-9s.
This was all in the works long before Kirby got the nod as the airline’s next CEO. He’s been calling the shots for some time. The results are as expected.
That said, these seat maps haven’t been released officially by United – hopefully what comes out of the MRO will at least reconsider the lavatory issue, since a ratio of a single lavatory for more than one hundred passengers in back flying long haul seems like more pain than even a Scott Kirby spreadsheet would sign off on.