United Airlines’ Swanky(ish) New Boeing 737 MAXs

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Over the coming years, United Airlines will take delivery of well over 200 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, split between the 737 MAX 8, 737 MAX 9, and 737 MAX 10. While the airline is already flying the 737 MAX 9, United will commence service with the 737 MAX 8 in July. We now have more details about what we should expect from the interiors of these planes, and I’m impressed.

United’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 interiors

United Airlines has been incredibly tight-lipped about what to expect from its new Boeing 737 MAXs, and to this day hasn’t officially confirmed anything. However, United briefly published its Boeing 737 MAX 8 seatmaps online over the weekend, before removing them again.

We have no reason to believe that these seatmaps are inaccurate, and they gave us a lot of information about what we can expect from the plane. United’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft will feature a total of 166 seats, including:

  • 16 first class seats, featuring 37″ of pitch
  • 54 Economy Plus seats, featuring 33-38″ of pitch
  • 96 economy seats, featuring 30″ of pitch
  • At every seat there will be seatback on-demand entertainment, personal device entertainment, power outlets, and Wi-Fi
United Airlines’ 737 MAX 8 seatmap

The most interesting development here is that United seems to be intending to install personal televisions at all seats on 737 MAX 8 aircraft. This is interesting since United is already flying dozens of Boeing 737 MAX 9s, and the airline elected not to install personal televisions on those aircraft.

Several weeks ago there were reports of United intending to retrofit existing older aircraft with personal televisions. Prior to that United seemed to be headed in the direction of eliminating seatback entertainment domestically, so it seems like the airline has had a change of heart.

This is quite a contrast to American’s 737 MAX 8s

While the differences are perhaps subtle, I think it’s interesting to contrast United’s new 737 MAX 8s to American’s 737 MAX 8s, since the latter have what are known as “Oasis” interiors. Just to contrast a few points:

  • United will have seatback entertainment at every seat, while American doesn’t
  • United will have 166 seats, while American has 172 seats
  • United will have 54 extra legroom economy seats, while American has 30 extra legroom economy seats (it’s great for elite members when there are more seats with more legroom)
American Airlines’ 737 MAX 8 interior

Look, I don’t want to exaggerate here, it’s not like one airline is configuring planes like Spirit Airlines, and the other is configuring planes like Qatar Airways. Both airlines “only” have 37″ of pitch in first class and 30″ of pitch in regular economy. But there’s absolutely a deliberate investment being made here by United to subtly differentiate the product, and that’s refreshing to see.

American Airlines’ 737 MAX 8s are pretty underwhelming

Is United becoming more premium?

We know that over the past several years United has invested in its international premium cabin product, between Polaris Lounges and its Polaris inflight product. However, the airline hasn’t historically tried to differentiate itself much domestically, especially in economy.

United Airlines’ Polaris business class is great

United is now installing personal televisions on 737 MAXs, and also possibly installing personal televisions on older narrow body aircraft. It’s great to see United headed in that direction, since previously Delta was the only airline seemingly wanting to invest in its passenger experience across the board.

What I can’t wrap my head around in general — and this applies to both American and United — is the lack of long-term thinking. These kinds of capital investments take years and years to execute, yet both American and United seem to change their strategies faster than the process of actually implementing something.

One important aspect of offering a differentiated product is consistency. United has just taken delivery of dozens of 737 MAX 9s without TVs, and now the airline will take delivery of 737 MAX 8s with TVs. That will be a nice surprise for those who end up on one of these planes, but it’s also not something customers can count on.

Bottom line

United Airlines published its Boeing 737 MAX 8 seatmaps online, ahead of the planes entering service this July. It looks like United’s 737 MAX 8s will feature 166 seats, and will also have on-demand personal televisions at every seat. That’s quite a differentiation from American’s 737 MAX 8s, as United’s will have TVs, will have more extra legroom economy seats, and will have six fewer seats total.

Between this and United allegedly planning on reconfiguring older aircraft with televisions, it sounds like United is headed in a more premium direction. I’m curious to see how this plays out…

What do you make of United’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 plans?

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  1. Greg

    UNITED rising. It's underappreciated they have far more extra legroom seats available than AA, SW, or Delta.

  2. Tim Dunn

    It's worth noting that Alaska has 159 seats on their 737-800s (which has the same cabin size as the MAX8) and Delta has 160. With a larger premium economy cabin, UA still has more seats.
    However, UA's decision to install (or reinstall) seatback IFE on its domestic fleet says that customers do value it, something that B6 and DL have found is additive to, not a replacement for personal devices.

  3. shoeguy

    United isn't rising. It is just continuing to evolve (in the right direction, mostly) from a very poorly executed but ultimately necessary merger and has taken major steps to overhaul its premium products which weren't amazing nor industry leading until Polaris. Adding TV's on seatbacks may be good or bad, and may not even come to full fruition. I suppose AA's 737 and 321 fleets are so massive, they need to do what they have...

    United isn't rising. It is just continuing to evolve (in the right direction, mostly) from a very poorly executed but ultimately necessary merger and has taken major steps to overhaul its premium products which weren't amazing nor industry leading until Polaris. Adding TV's on seatbacks may be good or bad, and may not even come to full fruition. I suppose AA's 737 and 321 fleets are so massive, they need to do what they have done with Oasis. Maybe not. I've travelled on both carriers and found the experience about the same. AA's cabins are generally crisp and modern, if a bit lacking in branding flair. The UA 737 MAX economy cabin looks no different than AA's. There are just fewer seats, for now. AA and UA have different ways of flowing traffic through their hubs. AA dominates 3 of theirs (DFW, CLT, MIA), whereas UA has much more competition across a few of them, so has to do some differentiating. No arguments here. UA is better now than it has ever been, but it was a truly awful airline for decades, pre- and post-merger.

  4. George Gershwin

    16.43in of seat width? Good grief. Seat pitch is almost irrelevant to me when I'm constantly rubbing shoulders with my seat mate.

  5. Peer

    As an Economy flyer, 54 Economy Plus seats is awesome news.

    It's very unfortunate that they ripped out most of them in their dreamliners, though. Seems a bit odd that there are more Eco+ seats in a MAX-8 than in their long-haul planes.

  6. Jamss

    Probably trying to persuade American to do the same. And then backtracking to get the advantage:P

  7. SEM

    -6 Seats in Economy would make a WORLD of difference...We will see how it shakes out, but the current -800’s w/ 16F 150Y have an awful last row that doesn’t recline...Why any modern aircraft has a last row that doesn’t recline is beyond me...

  8. Mike

    Even though there is fleet inconsistency between the Max-8 and Max-9 there is consistency between the Max-8 and 737-800 which is the 1:1 replacement. If you are scheduled for UAs smallest 737 you can count on personal seatback entertainment.

    1. Tim Dunn

      UA has a boatload of 737-700s and they do not all (or any, I don't know) have seatback IFE.

    2. shoeguy

      A number of them do, and had DirectTV installed by CO pre-merger.

  9. Bobo

    Seat width 16.43 inches. No. My shoulders are wider than that.

    1. Kaleb_With_A_K

      You need to buy two seats or spring for first class. That is a YOU problem.

  10. Dick Bupkiss

    Also worth noting: the recent teases about the "Boom" supersonic jets, ALL shown in United livery. Not an accident, and a brilliant PR move that also helps United position itself as not-the-worst-legacy-airline.

    Now, I don't expect the Boom supersonic planes to ever carry a passenger (they might get a prototype off the ground, but this will never go into service with United or any other legacy carrier). But the PR that United got from the...

    Also worth noting: the recent teases about the "Boom" supersonic jets, ALL shown in United livery. Not an accident, and a brilliant PR move that also helps United position itself as not-the-worst-legacy-airline.

    Now, I don't expect the Boom supersonic planes to ever carry a passenger (they might get a prototype off the ground, but this will never go into service with United or any other legacy carrier). But the PR that United got from the flurry of stories last week about Boom was cheap (United will never end up buying the planes) and exactly fits this meme of United wanting to improve their image and differentiate themselves at least a little from ULCCs.

    All that said, I will not be looking forward to getting stuck in the main cabin of anyone's 737, Max or otherwise, unless it's a short hop. The seats in Domestic "First" are generally OK as long as you're not looking to sleep.

  11. Jerry

    Every TV in the world doesn't make up for the fact that United's wifi isn't nearly as good as AA's. I think in the long run, AA's gamble to eliminate TV is actually a good call. I simply don't use them anymore and value connectivity and streaming so much more.

  12. RF

    It is good to see United changing course and reinstalling IFE screens.
    Now work on replacing the slow WiFi.

  13. Kevin

    I don't think the 737 fuselage has gotten any smaller so why are the new seats so narrow? Especially when most people are getting wider. No thanks UA.

  14. Anthony

    I'm a Male, 5' 11" at 165 lbs (not even close to fat). 16.43 inches for seat width is ridiculous. Even after subtracting for skin, flesh and tissue, my skeleton is wider than that at the shoulders. What are you supposed to do to that? I would be willing to bet that if you measured the chest of anybody remotely associated with the manufacture of the 737 Max, the majority would not fit in that...

    I'm a Male, 5' 11" at 165 lbs (not even close to fat). 16.43 inches for seat width is ridiculous. Even after subtracting for skin, flesh and tissue, my skeleton is wider than that at the shoulders. What are you supposed to do to that? I would be willing to bet that if you measured the chest of anybody remotely associated with the manufacture of the 737 Max, the majority would not fit in that seat width at the shoulders. Also, for what? What are they doing with the extra inches they're stealing from customers? Is this about material, weight and fuel efficiency?

  15. u600213

    Channel 9 / From the cockpit capable IFE ?

  16. Russell

    Of the legacy carriers, American has always been my last choice. They reliably seem to be the least comfortable with flight attendants who act like they've been the most abused, and an uncanny skill of misplacing luggage. They even lost the bag that contained my father's ashes, on our way to his ceremony (I swear this is true). I've come to look on American as on par with Sears, while United is at least Macy's.

  17. OhHai

    For all the folks commenting about the 16.43" seat width, that's basically the same as existing 737-800s, which range from 16.3-17.3" in United and Delta's fleets, and as small as 15.9" in American's. Which shouldn't be surprising, given that Boeing didn't change the interior cabin width in the MAX (unlike the 777X) and all of the carriers are just using existing off the shelf seat models.

  18. Milo

    Agree with Jerry. I will trade good, reliable Wi-Fi over seat back screens every day of the week and twice on Sunday. At least in economy. Seat back screens never provide the right viewing angle, and you are at the mercy of the rocking of the seat (I'm not even talking about reclining) by the passenger in front.

  19. Sam

    It’s fantastic that United and Delta are providing that premium experience by bringing back IFE screens

  20. Thomas

    US carriers just don't get it. Its about comfort for the paying passengers. I would rather fly a middle eastern or Asian carrier. They have better food, better seating, cleaner staff and nicer interiors. Much more pleasant experience for long haul flights at least.

    The 16 inch wide seats in these planes is just appalling! To these corporations we are just cattle.

  21. David J. Peterson

    Oh, Lord. Flying on one of these is now more claustrophobic than ever! Even if you aren't claustrophobic, you will be now. Shame on me for taking DC-10's, L-1011's, and all "jumbos" for granted all those years.

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George Gershwin

16.43in of seat width? Good grief. Seat pitch is almost irrelevant to me when I'm constantly rubbing shoulders with my seat mate.

Tim Dunn

It's worth noting that Alaska has 159 seats on their 737-800s (which has the same cabin size as the MAX8) and Delta has 160. With a larger premium economy cabin, UA still has more seats. However, UA's decision to install (or reinstall) seatback IFE on its domestic fleet says that customers do value it, something that B6 and DL have found is additive to, not a replacement for personal devices.

Bobo

Seat width 16.43 inches. No. My shoulders are wider than that.

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