This week United revealed its newest domestic first class seat and other enhancements (such as a new aromatherapy scent) at a special event at its Chicago headquarters and TravelSkills was there.
Here’s what we learned:
>New first class seats designed by PriestmanGoode will roll out starting next week. The first aircraft to get them will be an Airbus A319. The rollout will continue through the end of 2016 by which time all A319s and A320s along with some Boeing 757s will have them. United said that its Airbus aircraft currently without in-seat power plugs would be the first to get the new seats.
>United said that the size of the first class cabins and the number of first class seats on each plane will not change.
>The most noticeable feature of the new seat is a granite-topped cocktail ledge on the center console. Designers said that the marble is more like a wafer than a block to keep weight down, but is mounted on a sturdy honeycomb-type material for durability.
>Another welcome feature is the addition of a lot of new storage space. There are special nooks for laptops and water bottles under arm rests and two seat back “literature pockets” for stowing your stuff.
>United has added a patented new tray table that includes a slot for tablets– just pop your tablet into the slot, which holds it upright and allows you to eat from the tray table and watch a movie on your tablet simultaneously. (Increasingly important as United moves away from seatback screens and focuses on its “bring your own device” inflight entertainment system.)
>Every seat has a universal power outlet, but no USB.
>The dark blue leather seats are trimmed in “bespoke” white stitching with cushions that are just over 21 inches wide– United says they are two inches wider than the current version. The seats have “articulated recline” which means when you push back, the seat cushion moves forward a bit. (Articulated reclining seat get mixed reviews– just ask anyone who flew Cathay Pacific before they got rid of them.) Seat pitch varies from 31 to 37 inches (depending on aircraft type and seat position)– the same as the current version.
>United also is working to redesign its gate areas, and has three prototypes of the new design at Chicago-O’Hare gates B4, B8 and B10. The most unusual addition to the gates? Aromatherapy! In a move that mimics Delta (once again) United said that it will start infusing jetways, United Clubs and inflight hot towels with a new herbal, spa-like scent called “Landing.” (I liked it.) You may already notice the new scent in O’Hare jetways, and by the end of the year it will be swirling around all United Clubs.