It’s time to shake off all the bad news from last week and move forward with something positive. United has finally unveiled the new business class seat, and it looks like a rock star to me. I’ve rarely had nice things to say about UA lately, but they’ve definitely done this right. You can read all about it in this press release, which must have been released just after midnight on the east coast.
When I look at that shot, the first thing that stands out are those 15.4″ individual tv screens. Nice and big, and yes, it will have full audio/video on demand. And by the way, as announced awhile ago, you can plug your iPod in to the system, listen to your music, and recharge as you fly. There’s also a USB port and a standard 110V plug so you can charge just about anything.
The bed is 6’4″ when flat, and it IS fully flat. American just rolled out their angled lie flat seat, so this has to piss them off. They haven’t even finished installing the seats and they’re already miles behind their biggest US competitor.
First Class is getting a makeover as well. The suites on the 777 and 747 aircraft will be upgraded with the new AVOD system as well and the seats will get some more subtle upgrades as well. The 767s will finally get the suite after years of having a substandard product.
So, the product is awesome, but now the big question . . . can the airline actually make them pay for themselves? They’ve got to start having fewer upgrades and more fare-paying customers in these seats. Now that the seat is at a world-class standard, they need to start charging like a world class airline. (Um, that’s assuming they can find a way to deliver world class service as well.)
When you look at the aircraft configuration, you can see that United is taking steps in the right direction.
|First||Business||Economy Plus||Economy Minus||Total|
They’ve made the business class seats alternate facing forward and backwards in order to fit more seats on the plane. BA pioneered this concept, and it really enables a lot more seating while maintaining the lie-flat seat. So now, United will actually have 8 across in business class on the 777 but the seats are longer so they take up more real estate.
To compensate for that, they’re reducing the number of seats in the premium cabins. The 747 gets the biggest change with an almost 8% increase in seating. First, Business, and Economy Plus all shrink in order to bump up the Economy Minus cabin size. This is great for routes that are lower in business demand. The airline can now finally put more seats where they need them.
The 777, on the other hand, gets the bump in Economy Plus. So this plane can be used for more business-oriented routes. The 767 just loses room all around, probably a lot of that has to do with the addition of the First Class suites to the plane.
United has done well here. The frequent flier who thrives on upgrades to business class won’t be happy since there are now fewer seats onboard to upgrade to, but those aren’t the people United wants. United can now actually compete for the paid Business Class traveler. For that segment, they don’t need as many Business Class seats. They just need the ones they have to be great.