United Airlines is to start fitting fully flat beds in business class from this autumn. The US carrier will gradually introduce the new seating over the next couple of years, across its fleet of 767, 747 and 777 aircraft.
United says it will be the first US airline to offer fully flat beds in business – but not for long, as Delta announced last year that it would start going fully flat from 2008 (see online news October 12, 2006). The announcement has however trumped rivals American Airlines introduction of "next generation" angled lie-flat seats which it has gradually been rolling out since last year (see online news March 16, 2006).
The new United business class seat has been designed by B/E Aerospace (Delta's offering is being manufactured by the rival company Contour), and will feature a 6ft 4 inch fully flat bed, 23.5 inches wide at its widest point, with four-way lumbar support and six-way adjustable headrest, a 15.4 inch TV screen, and an ottoman with storage space for laptops.
Technophiles will also be happy to find an iPod adapter enabling passengers to play their own music through the IFE (whilst also charging the device), and a USB port to charge other items such as PDAs, mobile phones and cameras. In-flight entertainment includes 150 hours of movies and TV programmes and 50 audio channels, along with noise cancelling headphones.
Interestingly United has eschewed the herringbone layout favoured by the likes of Virgin and Air New Zealand, in favour of a 2-4-2 configuration similar (but with key differences) to BA's Club World. This means that passengers in the window and central seats will still be faced with climbing over their neighbours to get out. Unlike BA though, United has opted for adjacent seats facing in the same direction (see layout below), meaning passengers won't have to face each other during the flight. Seat width dimensions are slightly smaller than BA's new Club World (25.5 inches at their widest), but the flat bed length compares favourably with BA's figures of 6ft when fully reclined, or 6ft 6 inches in the "Z" position. The airline says it carried out "extensive line-of-sight testing" to ensure passenger privacy, something it says has been achieved through the height of the IFE console, and a side seat-divider screen.
United says it will also revamp its food and beverage offering, with new menus from chef Charlie Trotter, and upgrades will be made to the restrooms and cabin interiors "in the coming months".
Configuration on the 777 will be eight seats in first class, 40 in business, 107 in economy plus, and 114 in economy. United says it will begin fitting the new seating this autumn, along with its new first class suites announced earlier in the year. Says John Tague, United executive vice president and chief revenue officer:
"We are responding to our customers and delivering a distinct travel experience. Our customers travelling in international United Business will be able to relax more comfortably, work more productively and enjoy their experience more fully due to the flexibility and comfort that the new seat provides."
United joins an ever-growing number of airlines giving in and going fully flat, with Emirates announcing similar plans for its new 777-300ER and 777-200LR aircraft (see online news June 15).
For more information on United's news seating, visit suitedreams.united.com - and if you have any comments on United's new seating design, just click on the link below to email us.
Report by Mark Caswell