United Airlines will install an all-new first class seat which converts into a lie-flat bed on its forthcoming Boeing 737 MAX jets as the airline goes flat out to woo premium travellers on key US domestic routes.
The airline has already assessed one prototype of the still-under-wraps seat, which will feature on transcontinental routes from 2020 and replace the current Boeing 757s, which also sport 28 lie-flat first class seats on flights from its Newark hub to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
A second prototype will be rolled out by November for testing by passengers, United president Scott Kirby revealed at an aviation industry summit in Denver.
With 100 Boeing 737 MAX 10 jets on order, United is looking to enlarge its premium-heavy sub-fleet to add new routes to its coast-to-coast network.
"Would San Francisco to Washington DC work? Probably," Kirby mulled. "That's part about creating a fleet we can experiment with and see which markets work and which don't."
Kirby reflected that the Star Alliance member's current Boeing 757 flat-bed service has "been really successful in the markets that we have it in. There are other markets out of Newark and [Washington] Dulles that we would like to have it but we simply don't have airplanes to do it today."
Kirby said that the premium-configured Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft product would have fewer seats than in its standard configuration.
Several airlines are considering a shift to lie-flat business class in the Boeing 737 MAX, following the lead of FlyDubai which fitted its Boeing 737 MAX jets with ten flatbed seats based on Thompson Aero's popular Vantage seat, ranked in two rows of a 2-2 layout and a single of solo 'throne'-style seats.
Malaysia Airlines has previously said it would launch lie-flat suites with direct aisle access for all passengers on its Boeing 737 MAXC 10 fleet, due to take wing from 2021, while Virgin Australia reportedly has similar plans for an all-new transcontinental business class by the time its own Boeing 737 MAX aircraft arrive from late 2019.