United Airlines’ new "Aspire" economy class seat takes flight

United Airlines just wrapped a busy week. The carrier unveiled its newest Polaris lounge in San Francisco, complete with the CEO hosting a media preview event. It also increased its stake in Brazilian carrier Azul. And, in exciting news for domestic travelers, breakfast tacos are now available on board. The most significant news, however, might be the announcement that the Polaris aircraft retrofit is finally picking up pace. The company expects to update one aircraft every 10 days through the next couple years. That’s big news for passengers in business class, of course, but the economy class cabin sees a significant update, too. In terms of total passengers impacted the significance of the new economy cabin is hard to underestimate.

The first 777-200ER (N786UA) with the new cabin layout entered service on 20 April 2018, bringing with it the launch of a new economy class seat. Aspire by Rockwell Collins (nee B/E Aerospace) is the latest long-haul economy class seat to be launched by the vendor, promising improved knee and shin room and better torso support in the seatback. The seats will be installed on 55 United 777s as a retrofit solution.

We are excited to offer customers traveling on our 777-200 fleet a new Economy seat featuring updated design, with more living space and under-seat stowage. The Aspire seat was selected as a result of extensive customer testing and feedback as we look to provide customers with a comfortable journey on long-haul flights. – Mark Krolick, VP Marketing, United Airlines



Other improvements in the seat design include rear-facing power outlets and a recline mechanism that raises the front edge of the seat pan slightly. This recline offers an “advanced kinematic mechanism that cradles the passenger during recline while preserving maximum living space for each passenger.”

Reclined and upright, the Aspire seat does not sacrifice knee room
Reclined and upright, the Aspire seat does not sacrifice knee room as much as other designs

It is not quite a shell seat where the pan only slides forward but also not a traditional recline where the seatback only moves towards the passenger behind. Such designs historically were shunned by airlines for their more complicated mechanisms and higher maintenance costs. Seat vendors improved reliability to the point that airlines are putting more of these into service again.

Note the front edge of the seat slightly raised and forward. This "cradling" design hopes to bring more comfort to long-haul passengers.
Note the front edge of the seat slightly raised and forward. This “cradling” design hopes to bring more comfort to long-haul passengers.


Our Aspire seat offers airlines an enhanced comfort system for long-haul wide-body aircraft that can be configured to fit a specific brand, cabin and passenger experience. We’ve worked closely with United Airlines to incorporate its brand and industry-leading amenities to optimize their passengers’ flight experience. – Tom Plant, VP Seating, Rockwell Collins

Rockwell Collins is not the only company working on new designs for the seat recline. OptimaresQuadra seat drops the front edge of the seat down, creating something slightly more flat rather than the cradle position. It is a less common design but still innovative for passengers. In both cases the potential for better comfort, even as more passengers are squeezed on board, is a silver lining.

Read more: Can a new recline reshape long-haul economy travel?

And, make no mistake, the new seats for United do mean more passengers in the economy class cabins. The new layout is 3-4-3, delivering narrower seats to everyone. That offsets the “increased under-seat stowage and greater passenger living space due to the proprietary seat frame and leg structure” that Aspire offers. Then again, the narrower seat was a certainty for the new United Airlines 777 layout so anything that makes it slightly better for passengers should be celebrated.

The Aspire seat will also fly on the carrier’s 787-10 when it joins the fleet later this year. Rockwell Collins says it has other, not-yet-disclosed customers for the product on A350 and 787 frames.

Polaris Rollout Picks Up Pace

With the new San Francisco Polaris lounge open – and the photos are spectacular, both from the company and from passengers or media visiting – the project’s rollout appears back on track. Lounges were delayed and the aircraft retrofits took a hit thanks to seats not being ready on time. The newly revised schedule of one aircraft every 10 days for the foreseeable future is a nice adjustment from the prior erratic and uncertain schedule.

Promo shot of the bar in the new United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco. It is now (finally) open to the public.
Promo shot of the bar in the new United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco. It is now (finally) open to the public. Real life version below.

It is worth noting that the layouts will not be 100% consistent even as the rollout moves forward. The first Polaris retrofits do not include United’s Premium Plus premium economy product. That will shift into service later this year, leaving United with multiple 767 and 777 layouts for some time to come.

Seth Miller has over a decade of experience covering the airline industry. With a strong focus on passenger experience, Seth also has deep knowledge of inflight connectivity and loyalty programs. He is widely respected as an unbiased commentator on the aviation industry. He is frequently consulted on innovations in passenger experience by airlines and technology providers. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .