United passengers to see in-flight seat & service improvements

By John Walton, August 22 2011
United passengers to see in-flight seat & service improvements

Passengers on US airline United will see a raft of improvements, including more flat-bed seating, a refit for New York connecting flights, more Economy Plus, extra overhead storage, more wifi and streaming wireless video -- even in Economy.

Earlier this week, we confirmed United's seating layout for the Boeing 787 it will fly between Houston and Auckland from next year.

Here's the rest of the airline's news, broken down by what will affect Australian business travellers the most:

In-flight streaming video and wi-fi

Trans-Pacific passengers rejoice: the airline is adding in-flight streaming video to the Boeing 747-400 planes used on Australia flights and other long-haul services. The airline says that you'll be able to watch a wide selection of video on your Wi-Fi-enabled handheld devices, tablets and laptop computers."

But don't get too excited if your laptop has a short-lived battery and you're in Economy: no plans to add at-seat power to the back of the bus have been announced.

First and business class passengers, though, get in-flight power -- for all the details, check out our in-depth review of United's trans-Pacific business class service.

(For more on how United's system might work, check out our report on competitor American Airlines' in-flight streaming video service, which is restricted to certain makes and types of laptop.)

The ex-Continental Airlines fleet that United inherited as part of its merger with the other airline will also be getting "advanced broadband Wi-Fi using Ka-band satellite technology" on over 200 of its planes.

United's fairly far behind its US competitors in offering Internet access on board, and being connected is especially important for passengers who've just come off a 14-hour international flight. So we hope there's more on this count soon.

Retrofit of p.s. flights to New York with flat-bed seats

United's p.s. flights (for Premium Service) run between its west coast hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York. It currently offers lie-flat seats in domestic first class, leather recliners in domestic business, and Economy Plus -- the "extra legroom in an economy seat" offering popular among US airlines.

When the refit is complete in 2013, you'll find flat-bed seats, Economy Plus, power ports at every row, on-demand audio and video, and wi-fi.

More domestic first class seats

The airline is adding domestic first class and extra-legroom Economy Plus seats to a good part of its regional connection fleet from hubs at Houston, Chicago, Washington DC and New York's Newark airports.

So if you're connecting from international business class in Australia to an eastern US destination, you'll get there in a bit more comfort, since most international business passengers connect to domestic first class

More extra-legroom "Economy Plus"

In addition to the regional fleet above, United is also adding Economy Plus to every single one of its pre-merger Continental Airlines planes.

The process will start later this year, with over a hundred refitted by early 2012. That's sooner than expected -- and good news particularly for high-tier United and Star Alliance frequent flyers travelling in the back of the plane.

Doubled overhead bin storage for carry-on luggage

We're not sure how United will do this, but it's planning to "nearly double the size of the overhead bins" on its 152 Airbus A320 family planes. That's a goodly part of United's US domestic fleet, but doesn't count a slightly larger number of Boeing 737-family operated by its merger partner Continental.

Given the US predilection for enormous carry-on bags (caused by fees to check even your first piece of hold luggage), this is great news.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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