United Airlines is bringing a new version of its highest capacity aircraft to the skies with a notable improvement for economy class passengers: in-seat entertainment screens. And how the company pulled it off is an interesting lesson in recycling.
The newest 772 high density layout clocks in at 362 seats on board, a couple shy of the prior configuration. It features four extra first class seats while dropping six economy class from the cabin. These aircraft are used on some of the company’s longest domestic flights, including to Hawaii from its mainland hubs.
The first reconfigured frame, N222UA, returned from retrofit at the beginning of the month and is expected to reenter service soon.
Expanding the premium cabin on board
The first class expansion comes at the expense of a galley section at the rear of that cabin. It was enabled by what a United spokesperson described as “an abundant amount of space” in the galleys, allowing one to be replaced with the additional premium seats while still maintaining the same service levels on board. This includes the recently announced expansion of a complimentary sandwich on Honolulu flights.
Bringing IFE screens back to economy class on United’s 777-200
Getting the inflight entertainment screens on to the 777s is not as easy as it sounds. Or at least not without significant costs. United came up with an interesting way around that challenge, and premium passengers are to thank for it.
Many of the United 777s were previously retrofit with the new 10-abreast economy class seats. But the version used for long-haul flying included the Panasonic Avionics screens on board. As the carrier reconfigured those planes to add the Premium Plus premium economy cabin some of the economy class seats were removed. And now those relatively new but out-of-service seats get a second go in service on the high density 777-200s.
The net result is that a handful of aircraft receive this modest upgrade for economy class passengers and United doesn’t have to throw away seats that were just beginning their useful lives.
A change in direction for in-seat IFE?
United shied away from delivering in-seat entertainment on its domestic fleet in recent years. Could these 777s herald a change of course for the company? Yes and no.
On the plus side, United previously committed to installing embedded IFE on at least some of the 737 MAX 10 fleet as it takes over the “p.s.” transcon flying routes. And the carrier did have several 777s that received the Premium Plus retrofit. That should be enough to get the last few 772 domestic/HD conversions into the new IFE setup.
But there weren’t enough IFE-equipped seats left to swap everything out on the existing high density 777s. And that was the case even before the airline industry shifted to crisis mode in the face of a demand collapse the past few weeks.