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United’s New Coach Seat Fails the ‘Friendly’ Test

United’s New Coach Seat Fails the ‘Friendly’ Test

United this week released details of the new slimline coach seats that will eventually be installed on more than 500 United planes, beginning with the CRJ-700s, followed by the 737 fleet. In all, more than 60,000 of the new seats will be fitted.

United is touting the new seats as part of its “customer-friendly upgrades,” a handy tie-in with its newly resuscitated “friendly skies” advertising campaign.

With full flights the new normal, flying in coach has never been more uncomfortable. That represents an opportunity for United, or any airline, to take the lead in elevating the coach experience.

So, do United’s new seats in any way promise to mitigate the discomfort of flying coach? Will they make the skies any friendlier, as United would have us believe?

According to the photos and seat specs United has released, they will not.

The new seats are handsome enough. And they will apparently be somewhat lighter than the current seats, reducing fuel burn.

But when it comes to the seat-of-the-pants experience, although United’s news release makes repeated mention of “customer comfort,” the only specific given is a vague reference to “more ergonomic and supportive cushioning.”

If United is genuinely interested in improving the coach experience, the key isn’t so much the seats themselves as it is the distance between the seats.

With a paltry 31 inches of pitch (industryspeak for legroom) on most of its 737s, United’s coach cabin is among the least friendly in the skies. By contrast, Southwest, hardly a leader in customer comfort, features 32 or 33 inches of pitch throughout most of its 737 fleet.

For United to make good on its own advertising claims, it must go beyond aesthetics and fuel-savings and focus on the customer experience. Until it does, the “friendly skies” slogan will ring hollow.

Reader Reality Check

Do you find flying United a “friendly” experience?

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  • Jason M

    Airlines are now in a competition to fleece the customers as much as they can, and get away with it. Stop flying so much, people! That’s the only way to teach ’em.

  • semsem5

    Because of the 31″ legroom on mainstream US airlines I prefer JetBlue and Southwest.

    I don’t care about the mileage.

  • toniv

    Lose weight, learn to pack, fly more comfortably.

  • dagny111

    I am very interested to know how I can lose weight in a way so as to make my legs shorter, especially the length from hip to knee. Also is there some way I can pack differently so that my legs will shorten? Adding an extra joint between my knee and hip would help.

  • roadrunner

    The lack of adequate leg room is a disgrace. This is the primary reason the Federal government should step in and RE-regulate the airlines — insist on 34-35″ of seat pitch and at least 20-21″ of seat width. The American public deserves nothing less.

  • arthur

    Flying recently on a 737 the seats were falling apart. Comfort is low on their priority list

  • johntraveller

    A silly question I know, but how can you judge the seats by having nothing more than a picture and description to look at? Airlines are in the business of packing in as many seats as possible and I have ridden many times without any real discomfort. The comfort of the seat is far more important than how much legroom you have. My back never ached from too little legroom.

  • netopiax

    Seat pitch means the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat behind. Therefore, thinner seats do provide passengers slightly more space if seat pitch is held constant. With the mainstream carriers all at 31″ pitch in coach, thinner seats do mean a more comfortable coach cabin on United, assuming the seats aren’t lacking cushion as a result.

    With that said, all of this and this entire article are speculation based on some photos and a really brief blurb from United.

    In any case, for a frequent flier, seat pitch comparisons should be for United Economy Plus, Delta Economy Comfort, AA Main Cabin Extra, and the lack of anything comparable, save exit rows, on Southwest. On United or AA, elites get extra leg room on most flights for no additional cost. Delta only has a handful of extra leg room seats in coach on each plane. Southwest fliers need to ensure they board first to snag an exit row if they want additional space, which means having status and/or buying a more expensive ticket, and showing up at the beginning of the boarding process.

  • netopiax

    The American public wants, and is getting, the cheapest possible airfares. And please explain how the fuselages of thousands of existing airliners can be widened to accommodate 21″ of seat width in coach – as nice as that would be. (Current seat widths in coach are 17-18″.)

  • Janine

    They should make all coach seats NON RECLINING! Especialy on
    international flights

  • Jeffy

    Sat in one of those seats about two weeks ago on a flight from DEN to IAD. Compared to the old worn out coach seats, it seemed a bit more comfortable. However, get another 100 butts in the seat and it will be no different. Can’t imagine a steady diet of flights without Economy Plus.

  • roadrunner

    Change the seating from 3-3 to 2-3. Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy.
    No excuse for sardine-can seating.

  • netopiax

    They don’t just attach those seats to the floor with a nailgun… the aircraft has to be designed for the type of seating you’re suggesting, even if the public were OK forcing everyone to pay 20% more instead of allowing some people the option of doing so.

  • roadrunner

    Actually, the airlines can configure their cabins however they choose — as you may know from the new Airbus configurations. It’s not a matter of forcing anyone to pay more — it’s a matter of common decency and minimal standards. You must work for the airlines since you seem so fond of the status quo.

  • netopiax

    I don’t work for the airlines and I find coach seats uncomfortably narrow. I’m not an airline apologist but you’ll notice in my original reply that I blamed this problem on the public, which has repeatedly voted with its dollars for worse and worse airline service. But it’s not 1950 anymore and I am not in favor of the government forcing the airlines to make changes that would, without a doubt, raise airfares for everybody.

  • Eric Pinckert

    Even with enhanced ergonomic support, 31 inches of pitch is a tough squeeze for many travelers, let alone the symphony orchestra featured in United advertising. Is there too much of a disconnect between modern flying reality and the friendly skies of yore?

  • CC

    I’ve flown in the new seats twice recently, both times in refitted A320s. The seats are terribly uncomfortable and many passengers were grumbling. They are shorter than the old ones, allowing additional rows to be added to the aircraft. That’s the real motivation. They are bad enough to make me consider changing airlines, and I don’t think I’m alone in that!

  • TomP

    I recently tried the new seats and they make a bad experience worse….very uncomfortable.

  • EYang

    I’m with netopiax. I loathe US legacy carriers but unfortunately the consumer has dug their own grave. The demand for cheap flights has led us to the point where we are today, sad to say. More government regulation isn’t the answer. Flyers voting with their pocketbooks is.

  • ibsenvk1

    If you recall during the days of regulated aviation, Southwest Airlines didn’t exist and flights across the country took 12 hours. Flights also cost about what they do now – a couple hundred dollars. Adjust for inflation, and whaddaya know… that’s around $1000 dollars, enough money to buy yourself a first-class seat. Problem solved, whiner.

  • ibsenvk1

    yes, there is a disconnect, because you get what you pay for. Buy first-class tickets. Prices of yore.

  • roadrunner

    If I’m a whiner, then so are thousands of other flyers. Regulating seat width and pitch makes sense and would not result in $1,000 tickets. The airlines would find a way to adjust (probably with fees for using the bathroom or carrying on a bag).

  • Eric Pinckert

    So … are United’s skies friendly only for the folks up front?

  • ibsenvk1

    Expectations are a funny thing. If I expect a middle seat in economy with 31 inches of pitch, and I get to go from DC to Los Angeles for $200, I see friendly skies. If I expect to pay $200 for 35 inches of pitch and/or a seat that’s 21 inches wide, well, I’m expecting a bit too much. If we think the “friendly skies of yore” were great, well guess what – we were paying the equivalent of $1000 per ticket back then, when the cocktail bar was a part of flying, as was smoking and 12 hour flights to go cross country. And the reality that around 100 million passengers flew per year in the 1960s verus over 600 million now in the US per year… basically, yes, the friendly skies of yore only exist for the folks up front. But I’d say that’s better than the 60s when the skies, period, were for those folks and the rest of everyone else stayed on the ground.

  • Eric Pinckert

    Flying today is: safer, cheaper, speedier, less turbulent, more accesible and much more fuel efficient than in days of yore. Carriers can and do position their brands around all these benefits. That more people have access to the option of air travel is unarguably better than when air travel was simply not an option financially. But flying today is wholly different from when Leo Burnett coined the “friendly skies” slogan 50 years ago. That’s what makes this campaign difficult for United to resurrect.

  • Ann Curtis

    Did you just call roadrunner whiner? Rude and ill mannered

  • Shankar/Selina

    If only a few foreign to compete, our US carriers will bend over backwards to please the eco-passengers.

  • Phyllis Giles Vance

    I fly on Uniteds CRJ’s and the new seats are awful!!!! On a 2-3 hour flight I get cramps every time. And sit next to a guy on one of those flights, and he is hanging over in your seat. The shoulder room leaves a lot to be desired.