United to slim(line) their 737 fleet

Remember a few months back when United announced that their Airbus narrow-body aircraft were getting new seats? Seems that the same change is now on tap for the Boeing half of the narrow-body fleet. The 737s are on tap to receive a similar slimline seat starting in 2014 according to sources inside the company. The seats were reportedly shown to employees at United’s Chicago headquarters over the past couple weeks. A United spokeswoman declined comment on these reported changes. (Update: Now confirmed)

United slimline seats as seen on their Airbus
United slimline seats as seen on their Airbus. Photo courtesy of S. Segraves/Badice.com

The installation process on the carrier’s Airbus fleet has already begun and reviews from passengers are less than glowing. Many have noted that, while they are more comfortable than the Lufthansa NEK version the new seats have less padding and smaller cushions than the previous iterations. Not everyone hates the new slimline seats, but that does seem to be a minority opinion.

From an in-flight entertainment perspective the new configuration will continue to include DirecTV on the planes which already have such a system in place, though new aircraft deliveries will not receive the in-seat TV option. They will receive wifi at some point, though it is not clear how many will get the Panasonic kit (currently being installed on the Airbus and long-haul fleet) and how many will receive the LiveTV kit (being installed soon on the 737s with DirecTV). Presumably that will also include streaming media of some sort but, again, that is not confirmed.

Without additional details on the cabin configuration it is hard to judge the overall impact of this change in terms of passenger comfort and space. It is likely, however, that this move will result in an extra row of economy seats being installed on most planes, similar to the approach taken wit the Airbus layout. It is hard to believe that’s going to be a very good thing for passengers.

Update (17:47 EDT 2 Oct 2013):

For reasons I simply cannot fathom the @United Twitter account decided to get in on the action this afternoon. The responded to me, Jon Ostrower of the WSJ and Edward Russell of FlightGlobal about this story:

Not particularly useful there, really. But thanks for trying, I suppose.

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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, and LinkedIn.


  1. Is streaming media going to replace all the in flight entertainment? Is streaming media only an internet connection?

    I haven’t experienced the new seats yet, but partners did when we shared some UA flights last week. On DFW-DEN on a flight with the new seats on 320 was not as comfortable as SAN-IAD on an old 737.

    1. Streaming IFE is the likely replacement; that’s what United did on the A319/320s and is, to some, the future of the industry. It is also much cheaper to supply and maintain. The streaming content is separate from the internet connection; it is stored content on a server in the plane which is streamed over the local wifi network.

  2. It definitely makes sense to remove the screens over the long run and move to a bring your own screen type model, but I don’t see why UA couldn’t keep the LiveTV/DirecTV functionality. Southwest does something similar, from my understanding.

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