Ever since the rumors of a new United Airlines 777-300ER order began earlier this year there has been plenty of discussion about just what the interior configuration would look like. Will the BusinessFirst product finally see an upgrade? Will the planes include a GlobalFirst cabin? And what of the economy class configuration, where United has held out for 9-abreast in the back so far while others have been pushing the 10-abreast 3-4-3 configuration. I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have a bit of information which I believe is sufficiently reliable to share.
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Not gonna happen.
The company has not been shy about its feelings of the continued decline in demand and value proposition in offering an international first class product. These planes are meant to help meet demand on longer “trunk” routes in the network and much of that demand is in economy and business class. So that’s how these planes will fly.
Good news: The oft-rumored new BusinessFirst seat is expected to make its debut on these planes. The timing is tight to make that happen – only about 18 months lead time can be challenging for the seat manufacturers – but it looks like this is going to be the opportunity for United to debut its new premium seating option. And that should be good news for passengers.
A draft of the Layout of Passenger Accommodations (LOPA) for the new planes shows 60 new BusinessFirst seats installed. Unfortunately I do not know if they will be of the herringbone (i.e. US, Cathay, etc.) or the staggered (i.e. Austrian, Swiss) varietal but more direct aisle access is coming for the folks up front and there will be a 20% increase in BF seats on board compared to the 2-cabin configuration 777-200ERs. One source suggests that UA will be the launch customer for the new BF seat product but that is not yet confirmed.
Anyone who believed that 3-4-3 is not the plan in the back was most likely simply dreaming. Far too many airlines have demonstrated that the economics of that configuration are far too compelling to the airlines for it not to be the future of the 777s. Where things were a bit less certain is in the Economy Plus section. That’s a space where a bit of premium goes a long way and where the company could significantly improve the experience for a few coach passengers. Alas, it does not seem to be happening.
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Unlike American Airlines which chose to do 3-3-3 in its Main Cabin Extra section the LOPA suggests that United will stay at 3-4-3 throughout the economy class section, even in Economy Plus. Sure, there will be the extra leg room, but the bit of additional seat width is surprisingly significant; I’ve now flown JFK-London in both layouts on AA and the difference was dramatic. That’s not to say I expect people are going to book away from United with the 3-4-3 seats installed, but it is going to be a rather less comfortable ride on the new planes than it was on the 772s they will be replacing.
The decision to not go 3-3-3 in Economy Plus does leave oven the incredibly slim chance that a proper Premium Economy class cabin might show up on these planes at some point. The odds are slightly higher than of a GlobalFirst seat being installed, but still spectacularly low. I’m not holding my breath.
Of course, all of this is based on a draft LOPA and subject to change pending the final delivery specs, but I’m confident enough in the source that I figure it is worth sharing now.
At the end of the day this cabin layout is not particularly surprising. Lots of business seats – and a new product – makes sense. So does cramming in as many economy class seats as possible. It also perpetuates the squeeze on the economy cabin to push incremental buy-ups for a premium product which is not business class. Unfortunately the current plans don’t offer quite as much in that space as the competition will have. That’s unfortunate but not necessarily surprising.