CHICAGO — In an interesting bit of timing, United Airlines yesterday gave a small group of media and some of its best customers a sneak peek at its new domestic first class seats. The event also outlined what the complete product will look like as it’s rolled out in the next 18 months.
United worked with London-based design firm Priestmangoode for two years on the seat and the accompanying products. The process started by inviting the carrier’s best customers to Chicago to give feedback on the existing seats, test out different seat options and offer their opinions on the features they wanted most. Some of the features of the new seat include:
- A soft navy leather
- A seat that’s 1.8 inches wider, at 21.1 inches
- An articulated design that features a six-way adjustable headrest and a recline that cradles passengers
- A new tray designed by Smart Tray, featuring a flip-up ledge that can accommodate mobile devices
- A universal AC power outlet
- An extendable granite-topped cocktail console between seats
- In-arm storage for laptops and tables
- A water bottle holder
- Double seat-back pockets
Maria Walter is United’s managing director for product and brand strategy. “We took a hard look at the fleet. Some have the United product and some have the Continental product. We needed to have a common design language in the fleet,” she said. “With this change all the seats and the product will have the same look and feel. Customers will no longer be able to tell if an aircraft was United or Continental.”
PriestmanGoode worked with United to make its design more consistent, said Walter. “We’re rolling out the first aircraft with new seats, an Airbus A319 next week,” she said. “It will take about 18 months to do the entire fleet, starting with the Airbuses.”
Nigel Goode is one of the co-founders of Priestmangoode. “We’ve worked on this for a few years, and the timing was great because United had been looking to influence the whole fleet, along with ground services for an overall consistent product,” he said.
That first aircraft will have the complete new product, said Goode. “We worked hard to develop signature finishes based on the hemisphere logo,” he said. “If you look at the seat covers, you see graduated lines that pick up the lines in the globe. And as you enter the plane, you see a 3D version of the hemisphere. It’s all about having quality items and an attention to detail.”
United listened to what passengers wanted on the seat, said Goode. “We then worked with seat manufacturer Zodiac to make it better,” he said.
As for what he expects passengers to see, Goode said “In a way, I hope they don’t notice anything, but just have a more pleasant experience.”
The most important airline asset is the flight crew and how they serve, said Goode. “These changes should help the crews offer passengers better service,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about a promise. If you do all this and let people down, it will be hard to get their trust back.”
There has been much speculation that United would be introducing a new Premium hard product to replace its aging and mixed legacy United / Continental cabins, especially with the looming 2016 introduction of the Boeing 777-300 into the fleet and then the Airbus A350 XWB. Time will tell whether the carrier will announce an update for long-haul.