New slimline seats on United: not the crappiest option!


When United Airlines announced last August that they’d be changing the seats on their Airbus A319 and A320 planes there was a bit of concern among their customers. The Recaro Slimline seat is a VERY basic product. It has been widely deployed in Europe (the Lufthansa Group of airlines has made it their default for narrow-body planes) and it is not particularly comfortable for flights of more than an hour or two. That can work in Europe where the hubs are more central and the flights are generally shorter. For the US market, however, it would have been a potentially unpleasant ride. A United official announced today that the carrier will be including the "comfort package" in their version of the seats. That should have many passengers quite relieved.

The new seats are manufactured by RECARO, and you may recognize the specific model from several European carriers, who feature it on many of their mainline narrow-body aircraft. However, because we fly our Airbuses over longer stage lengths than the typical intra-Europe segment, our version of the seat will have several upgraded comfort features over the base model. These include multi-directional headrests, added lumbar support, and a different seat bottom cushion with more padding and multiple layers of soft memory foam. The literature seat pocket has been moved higher, which facilitates the above increase in knee space, and there’s a new amenity pocket specifically for personal items.

IMG_0490
The Recaro Slimline seat in service on a Lufthansa narrow-body plane; the middle seat is blocked for 'business class' service.

As part of the same announcement a scant few details on the streaming media offering were made public:

Along with Wi-Fi, the addition of on-demand streaming video will become the standard for our Airbus fleet. As a result, when these aircraft go in to have the new seats installed, the traditional audio/video system with dropdown monitors will be removed. However, these aircraft won’t “go dark”—Wi-Fi will be available on all aircraft that have the new seats. In any case, like Wi-Fi the streaming product will eventually have pricing attached to it, although we do plan to offer a limited range of complimentary content until we finalize these plans.

The 747s are also getting the streaming media option and it was previously stated that the content would be free on those planes; it is interesting to see the slightly different tack being taken with the short-haul fleet.

Finally, for the Channel 9 lovers, the IFE retrofit means that offering will disappear. That’s definitely a bummer.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

19 Comments

  1. An average flight in Europe is not generally shorter than in the US!
    In 2010, the FAA says the average domestic US flight was 493 nm and EUROCONTROL says the average european flight was 557 nm (and no, it does not include TATL and others like that, it’s only flights inside the EUROCONTROL member states – which means it doesn’t even include flights to Russia, eg).

    1. Back out the RJs in the US market – there are WAY more in the US than Europe – and those average numbers would shift.

      At 1000nm a plane leaving FRA can get to every other major city in Europe (might just miss IST). At that same 1000nm range a plane leaving IAH cannot get to DC, New York, Philly, Boston or the west coast.

      These planes are going to be flying longer missions in the USA than they would in Europe. The need for the comfort package is very, very real.

  2. @Miguel : but the total distance traveled is still much higher in the US

    In europe, few people need to do 2500mi flights “intra-europe”, but in the US, that’s standard transcon range

  3. Wandering Aramean,

    Me thinks you will expect to see something like the WN IFE on the domestic planes. There will be shopping, ua.com, and an airshow map, the TV and movies will cost a nominal amount.

  4. Sad to see the Channel 9 offering disappear. Surely they could make it an option on the streaming portal page, though (like a localized version of LiveATC.com).

    I’d even be willing to pay a buck or two to hear it. Hey–there’s an idea: UA should give 90% of the From The Flight Deck fee to the pilots! That might incentivize them to turn it on more frequently. 😉

  5. Sad to see CH 9 go, but I would say, in my recent experience, it’s turned on well under 1/2 the time.

  6. I love Channel 9 and most of the time the pilots will turn it on if you ask. How will it work to stream it over WiFi if WiFi isn’t available until you reach 10,000 feet and/or personal electronics are not allowed?

  7. That’s great news on the seats!! And generally the IFE on the Airbuses is a thumbs-up, even though I’ll hate losing Ch 9.

    At least the 747 Y seats will be something I might consider, as opposed to the current seats and overhead monitor entertainment.

  8. I love Ch 9. I always try to make it a point to thank the pilot when I’m exiting the plane for turning it on.

  9. Notice there’s no talk of a bigger F cabin in the A319. I think the coach seats will be similar to what Aegean has in their planes–LH like but with more padding. Still uncomfortable.
    Not outfitting the whole plane with plugs is a mistake. I’d never pay for wifi/IFE that will result in my electronic devices void of juice on arrival.
    Surprised the “new” United is killing off channel 9? Well since the the “new” United is really the “Hou” United, no I’m not surprised.

  10. Flew United A320 today BOS to ORD. Had the new “slimline” seats – they suck. Hard, uncomfortable, etc… To make matters worse? The entire entertainment system is gone – everything. Make sure you bring a book, iPad, something. Just make sure it is small. The new seats have a very small tray table and the seat pocket will not hold anything larger than a magazine or 2.

    Air travel just got worse…

  11. I have been a 1k flyer on UAL for over 15 years and just flew an airbus with the new seats for a hour flight. I was in economy plus and in my opinion these seats are much worse than the cloth seats they had previously. This is very disappointing that they made this decision. I cannot really understand it. The first class product has been getting worse and now this.

    The market is ripe for a airline that provides service and comfort. Maybe Delta and AA are providing it. I am now forced to try them.

    1. Bad news, John: Delta and American are installing slimline seats, too. So is JetBlue. And I’d bet US does as part of their merger fleet normalization.

      It is what the market is offering today.

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