United Airlines absolutely has the worst longhaul business class product of the “big three” US airlines. Say what you like about American’s old business class product, but that product is dying, with the 777 and 767 retrofits. The fact is that these seats are becoming hard to find. All of these new planes are configured so that all seats have direct aisle access. On Delta, every longhaul aircraft is configured in either a staggered or herringbone 1-2-1 layout. On United, you will find exactly no planes where all seats have direct aisle access. The fact is that UA is lagging behind most the other big US airlines in terms of hard product.
But is seems that that may change. In December 2016, United will be taking delivery of its first 777-300er. Though the 777-300er is almost 12 years old, United is just placing orders now. The new 777 will not feature a first class cabin, though it will feature an updated version of the business class one.
We don’t know exactly what this cabin will look like, though we do know two things: it will be in a 1-2-1 or 1-1-1 configuration (though the second option if fairly unlikely) and that all of the seats will be forward facing, unlike the current product, where rows alternate between facing forward and facing backwards. While we don’t have specific details, and it will likely be months until we do, we can infer what this new product will look like.
US airlines are notorious followers. When one does something, another does the same, as we see with everything from fare wars (good for consumers) to devaluations (bad for them). When United and Delta went revenue-based for their frequent flyer programs, American did the same. We see this all the time: when one airline does something, another copies it, all to stay competitive, even if it means screwing over passengers via devaluations or other changes to award programs.
Given that US airlines always seem to follow and copy one another, I expect that UA will have a product similar to those offered by American and Delta on their 777’s. Both of these products are herringbone-configured, which leads me to believe that United will likely install those types of seats on their 777-300ers. AA and DL’s internationally configured 767’s have staggered seats, but, other than those aircraft, staggered seats are pretty rare among US airlines. I am fairly sure that UA’s 777-300 business class will be a herringbone or reverse herringbone seat in a 1-2-1 configuration.
But that raises another question: will UA retrofit other planes with the new business class? I think so. When American got their 777-300er’s, they began retrofitting their other aircraft. Also, UA’s offering simply isn’t competitive: if they want you stay in the market, especially when both American and Delta have far superior products, they must revamp their fleet systemwide, as American has done.
But that brings an interesting question: what will happen to first class? On the new 777, there will be no first class cabin. UA is overhauling their 767’s that have first so that they don’t anymore. I think that United will likely leave the 777-200 and 747 first cabins untouched and just retrofit business class, or they may also decide to revamp first as well.
While the truth is that we really don’t know what UA’s new business class will look like, we can make guesses. Based on my impressions, it seems like UA’s new business class will be good, though not great. It will certainly be better than the current offering, and I am excited to see what the next few months might bring on this subject.