Are United’s Cabins Competitive Against American and Delta?

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With so many options for air travel, airlines must constantly expand and improve their aircraft cabins. Over the years, many advances in design and technology have changed all parts of flying.

United Polaris (Business Class): In mid-2016, United announced the introduction of United Polaris business cabin seats. The revolutionary seat featured direct aisle access for everyone and an advanced infight entertainment system. Unfortunately, the roll out of this hard product has been behind schedule and slow. This has resulted in a significant number of aircraft that still have the 2 across old layout (one variant of the United’s Boeing 777 even has 8 seats across for business class).  American Airlines and Delta Air Lines both have direct aisle business class seats on all long-haul international routes. Furthermore, Delta is retrofitting its aircraft with new “suites” featuring a half height door.      

United Premium Plus (Premium Economy): As the last US legacy airline to offer a true premium economy, United has set March 30, 2019 as the official commencement of the service for 22 routes. A combination of Europe and Asia fights operated by retrofitted United Boeing 777-200ER and -300ER aircraft and new 787-10’s will feature the Premium Plus cabin. American Airlines was the first US legacy carrier to offer premium economy on their new Boeing 787-9 in 2016. With great success, American has expanded the offering to 46 routes across Asia, Europe, and South America. Delta Air Lines first introduced a premium economy cabin on their new A350 branded as Premium Select in 2017. The Delta Premium Select cabin is also found on retrofitted Boeing 777 and is expected across the entire feet by 2021.

United EconomyAll three legacy carriers offer a very restrictive ticket known as basic economy. On United Airlines, a basic economy ticket restricts carry-on luggage to a single persona item that can fit under the seat (a full-sized carry-on is now permitted). Both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines allow basic economy passengers to bring both a personal item and full-sized carry on. Additionally, United and American Airlines both operate Boeing 777 economy cabins with 10 seats across arranged in 3-4-3. These seats are approximately 17.25 inches wide (narrow!). Delta has kept the 9 abreast seating on its modified Boeing 777 aircraft.

Each airline has a unique strategy to be successful and utilizes cabin offering as a major differentiator. Due to factors like unexpected aircraft swaps and aircraft always being modified, cabin experience can vary from expected. There may never been a time when an entire fleet has a consistent cabin offering across planes. However, United Airlines always seems to be last with cabin innovation and the slowest to implement crucial improvements.  

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  1. You can have the best cabins in the business but when you staff them with employees who don’t want to be there, hate the company they work for and have no customer service culture, well, then you get United Airlines.

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