United's Boeing 787 seat plan: the shape of Dreamliners to come?

By David Flynn, May 31 2012
United's Boeing 787 seat plan: the shape of Dreamliners to come?

United Airlines has revealed the seating layout for its Boeing 787, providing a glimpse into how other airlines – including Qantas – will divvy up their Dreamliners when they take to the skies later this year.

Accessible through United's booking system, based on a booking for the 787's debut from Denver to Tokyo's Narita airport on March 31st 2013, the seat map shows a three-class layout for Business First, Economy Plus and Economy seating.

(What happened to United's plans for the Dreamliner to debut on a new Auckland-Houston route? Here's the story.)

United's international business class – which is tagged Business First, in a confusing attempt to differentiate it from 'Global First'  international first class and US domestic 'United First' – numbers 36 seats, occupying the first six rows in a 2-2-2 configuration.

That's followed by a surprisingly large Economy Plus cabin from rows 16-22, some seats in row 23 plus all of row 27 (the exit row at the front of the main economy cabin).

Economy Plus isn't your conventional Premium Economy class - it's the same seat, 3-3-3 layout and in-flight menu as economy, but with extra legroom.

The rest of the plane, from rows 28 to 38, is given over to standard close-quarter economy seats – delivering a total seat count of 219 from tip to tail.

Jetstar will equip its Boeing 787s due in August 2013 with business and economy, similar to its current Airbus A330s, while Qantas will use a three-class layout when its own Dreamliners are rolled out from 2015-2016.

Qantas still to settle on 787 seating

In many ways the United seat map can be seen as an indicator of the floorplan Qantas and other 787 customers will adopt, using a trio of business, premium economy and economy.

However, the Red Roo will be able to squeeze a few extra rows of seats onto its Dreamliners because Qantas has ordered the longer 'stretch' version 787-9 rather than the 787-8 of United and Jetstar.

Qantas is still to decide if its own Dreamliners will sport a third-generation of Marc Newson-designed Recarro seats for business and premium economy or if it will choose different seats, including those offered by Boeing's catalogue of pre-approved 787 seat suppliers.

"You tend to shop off the catalogue for the rest of the aircraft but Boeing allows flexibility around the premium cabins" Qantas executive Lyell Strambi told Australian Business Traveller last year.

"That will be a big decision for us to make closer to the time, on what will be the ultimate configuration for this plane and how many seats we have in each class."

Business is the new first, says Boeing

For its part, Boeing doesn't expect any airlines to offer traditional first class onto the 787 – high-spec business class will instead take pride of place at the pointy end of the plane.

"We’re seeing many airlines starting to reduce their full-blown first class offering, mainly because business class is beyond what first class used to be" observes Tom Galantowicz, Boeing’s Director of 787 Interiors.

"The front end of the 787 cabin has first class features, and business class is where the better airlines spend money because passengers are willing to pay for it” Galantowicz told Australian Business Traveller during one of our visits to Seattle last year.

"So there’s (increasingly) a big gap between business class and economy class. Airlines are looking at an intermedia product to fill that gap, which is why we're seeing wide interest by airlines in premium economy.”

“25 years ago, business class was the gap-filler between first and economy, and if you look at a lot of premium economy product they literally mirror what we saw in business class 25 years ago.”

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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