United 777 Premium Reconfiguration Requiring Changes in Coach?

Ever wonder why United is (finally) working hard to upgrade the 767 and 747 aircraft with the new premium cabin seats, but the 777 is left behind? It appears, that of all things, it’s a problem in coach that’s keeping them from getting it done. The fix is going to end up changing the coach configuration on the airplane, and while it will cost the airline a fair chunk of change, it won’t really benefit coach passengers much at all.

According to sources, the new inflight entertainment system that’s being installed as part of the premium cabin makeover is incompatible with the old screens in coach. This obviously wouldn’t impact the 747 since it has no screens in coach, but it apparently doesn’t impact the 767 either. So, United now needs to fix the coach screens on the 777, and that apparently requires new seats. That obviously means it will cost money, so it’s no surprise that United is de-emphasizing the 777 project in favor of the 767 and 747 one right now.

As part of this project, I’m told that United will actually be changing the configuration in coach on the 777s from 2-5-2 to 3-3-3. I’m not sure why this change is happening, but I wonder if it has to do with how many screens each box can power. If each box can power 3 screens, then a 3-3-3 configuration would need 3 boxes per row while 2-5-2 would need 4 boxes (assuming they can’t reach across the aisle). This would certainly make the configuration change worthwhile.

United 777 Config

But that’s speculation. If anyone knows why this change is being done, please let me know. Assuming this information is accurate, it’s going to once again mean a painful transition for United customers in coach. I assume it’s a safe bet that they won’t dedicate certain configurations to a single route. (Though they’re trying to do it now, it’s far from a guarantee.) So while the change is happening, if you booked a B seat on one plane thinking you had an aisle, you might end up with a middle seat. On the other hand, if you booked a D seat thinking you have a middle, you might be rewarded with an aisle.

On top of all this, I think it’s safe to assume that the domestic 777 fleet which has no international premium product or in seat video, probably won’t change at all. If those are all isolated to the Hawai’i and domestic routes they’re intended to fly, it’s not a huge problem but it still adds to the confusion.

What’s the worst part of all this? There won’t be any material changes for coach passengers, as far as I can see. This won’t bring video on demand or anything like that into coach. It will simply be a costly infrastructure upgrade to allow for video on demand up front.

If anyone has further information about this, hit the comments.

[There is now an updated post with info that United will have on demand in coach.]

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