United Airlines appears poised to adjust its 737 MAX order book, as well as change the way the aircraft interiors are fitted. The carrier currently has 123 open orders for the MAX (and 14 delivered). United is mostly betting heavily on the MAX 10 as a higher capacity, single-aisle domestic workhorse. It holds orders for 100 of the type. The other 23 orders are mostly expected to be the MAX 9; that’s all that has been announced so far. But that also appears to not be the ultimate plan for the airline.
Multiple internal documents reviewed by PaxEx.Aero suggest that the carrier will add the MAX 8 to its fleet. Not only has a fleet type code been added to internal documentation, but some interiors layout materials also reference the MAX 8 for the company. It is unclear if this will be an incremental order of conversion of existing backlog.
Upgraded IFE for the new United MAX
Separate from the additional aircraft type, the documents suggest that the carrier will also change the way its inflight entertainment system is fitted on the new MAX 8 and MAX 10. While all recent deliveries and retrofits offer only streaming IFE to passenger devices it appears that at least some aircraft of these new types will see embedded screens installed.
A return to embedded IFE screens would represent a retreat for the company’s recent efforts to push the single-aisle fleet completely towards the streaming offerings. Such systems are described by their proponents as more in line with passengers’ experiences on the ground; movies and other content is frequently streamed on the small screens. Moreover, leaving the screens off the planes saves significant capital as well as fuel (the screens and wiring add weight) and licensing costs.
But passengers are keen to have more of the at home experience on board, which means more than just streaming content on their personal devices. Indeed, it means more screens with content overall. One screen might show a movie while the other is used for browsing online social media sites or working. United’s latest IFE solution, built in partnership with Panasonic Avionics, includes an updated picture-in-picture solution that could allow multiple content streams on the in-seat screen (e.g. a movie and moving map) plus the passenger’s personal device.
Another advantage of the in-seat screens is that newer models typically include a high-powered USB outlet for charging passenger devices. This outlet is readily visible to travelers and does not require searching under the seat to plug in. It also is generally sufficiently powerful to charge a device, even if the user is consuming media during the flight.
Another justification for at least some of the MAX 10 fleet to carry screens on board is their likely replacement of the premium configured 757-200s for United’s transcon services over the next few years. That premium service argues for the premium on board experience and that means screens in the seats. The competition also offers the screens on their competing transcon fleets, making it harder for United to not do so on those routes.
A United Airlines spokesperson declined to comment on future aircraft configurations.