During the International Aviation Forecast Conference, President Scott Kirby said that United Airlines is working on a lie-flat seat for their new Boeing 737 MAX 10 which they are expected to get in 2020. While this is great news for loyal United passengers, the announcement is another example of United playing catch up with other airlines.
Currently all three legacy carriers as well as JetBlue already operate aircraft with lie-flat seats on lucrative transcon routes. United uses a mix of 757-200 and 777-200, Delta uses the 757-200 and 767-400, while American and JetBlue exclusive each use the A321. In addition to priority handling, elevated service, and comfortable seats for the approximately 6-hour flight, premium cabin passengers receive lounge access before departure.
Comparing aircraft by first eliminating wide-body planes like the 767 and 777, leaves the 757-200, A321, and 737 MAX-10 in the future for lie-flat domestic service. All these planes are relatively similar in both size, capacity, and range. (When configured with lie-flat seats, cabin capacity is decreased further depending on how many seats each airline opts for). Additionally, the 737-900 is 138.2 ft in length and the 737 MAX-8 is 129.8 ft which FlyDubia has already configured with lie flat seats.
I would argue that American Airlines has the best transcon service for premium passengers starting with the fact that access is provided to the AA Flagship Lounge (a step above the Admirals Club), while United only provides access to their United Club (not the premium Polaris Lounge). On board, American has both first class lie-flat seats with direct aisle access and business class lie flat seats in a 2×2 configuration on the A321 (this makes for a capacity of 102 passengers).
With Delta’s announcement earlier in 2018 about expanding Delta One service on domestic routes using the 757-200, United now must add more aircraft with lie-flat seats to stay competitive. These new planes with allow United to fly routes with lie-flat seats previous served by traditional first-class seats with substantially less recline when they arrive starting in 2020.
JetBlue pioneered using lie-flat seats on domestic routes outside of the high traffic NYC to Los Angeles/ San Francisco with routes like Boston (BOS) to Seattle (SEA) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to San Francisco (SFO). While the 737 MAX-10 is designed to be impressive aircraft and certainly an improvement for aviation, United continues to remain behind the curve with offering competitive products and service to premium passengers.