New Seats, Wi-Fi, Streaming IFE Coming to United Airlines Airbus Fleet

United Airlines is refreshing its Airbus fleet and UAInsider has provided a bit more insight into the pending changes.

  • New RECARO seats in United Economy and Economy Plus, which will result in an additional half-inch of headroom an almost a full inch of additional knee space on standard seats
  • Power outlets in first class and Economy Plus, but not regular economy
  • More spacious overhead bins
  • Wi-Fi
  • On-demand streaming video for Wi-Fi-enabled devices

Here's a bit more detail, which I'll quote from United:

New seats

The new seats are manufactured by RECARO, and you may recognize the specific model from several European carriers, who feature it on many of their mainline narrow-body aircraft. However, because we fly our Airbuses over longer stage lengths than the typical intra-Europe segment, our version of the seat will have several upgraded comfort features over the base model. These include multi-directional headrests, added lumbar support, and a different seat bottom cushion with more padding and multiple layers of soft memory foam. The literature seat pocket has been moved higher, which facilitates the above increase in knee space, and there’s a new amenity pocket specifically for personal items.

As reported here and elsewhere, the new seats will allow us to increase the capacity of these aircraft, without compromising personal space. Although all Airbuses will see an extra row in United Economy, we will also expand the Economy Plus cabin on all A319s and many A320s (the non-ex-Ted aircraft). 

I've worked with Recaro and Lufthansa on these seats when I worked for Star Alliance and I've seen the comfort package. United's cushion will be custom tailored, but the comfort packages I have seen still leave something to be desired--the seats likely will not be as comfortable as the previous seats. And forget about reclining much, though the upper literature pocket will certainly provide more knee room while still allowing UA to shrink legroom and add more seats.

It is also a bit disappointing that first class will not be standardized at 12 seats per aircraft on both A319 and A320 aircraft, but that is better the standardizing the cabin at 8 seats (the A319 currently has 8 seats in United First while the A320 has 12 seats).


Along with Wi-Fi, the addition of on-demand streaming video will become the standard for our Airbus fleet. As a result, when these aircraft go in to have the new seats installed, the traditional audio/video system with dropdown monitors will be removed. However, these aircraft won’t “go dark”—Wi-Fi will be available on all aircraft that have the new seats. In any case, like Wi-Fi the streaming product will eventually have pricing attached to it, although we do plan to offer a limited range of complimentary content until we finalize these plans. 

This is move puts United on the path to what I consider the future of aircraft IFE, at least for United States domestic flights. It seems that most have a tablet or laptop now and with power and wifi onboard, it just makes sense to remove costly and heavy overhead equipment.

But I bet the FAs will not like having to do manual safety demos!

Channel 9

Finally, I wanted to touch on a topic I know many of you (and I!) hold dear—Channel 9. For the moment, the move to Wi-Fi and streaming entertainment also means that live air traffic control will no longer be available in the “Channel 9” format. However, we are actively exploring options to bring Channel 9 to Wi-Fi equipped aircraft. Moreover, we remain committed to this product across much of the rest of our fleet, including all international long-haul and p.s. aircraft featuring on-demand entertainment. 

I am not expecting Channel 9 anytime soon on these retrofitted aircraft, but at least United mentioned it because eavesdropping on flight deck communication remains a feature that distinguishes United from others.

Looking forward to onboard internet on the Airbus and Boeing 737 fleet! It is about time.

(tip of the hat to Wandering Aramean)


Brad May 10, 2013 at 08:21 am

Thanks for this information. I had a transcon on the 'oddball' United 757 with thin leather seats and no headrest, and it was really uncomfortable for a flight of that length and even my exit row seat didn't have much legroom.

I guess I'm happy about wifi, but power is needed too! I guess they are trying to upsell E+ even more. Sadly I'm so used to going without wifi, it will take me a while to get used to paying for it and making it useful.

I really don't like the loss of channel 9. I can't help but believe this is the beginning of the end of that excellent feature. United "remains committed" to a lot of things that they aren't (and I fear won't) be delivering.

Chris May 10, 2013 at 09:52 pm

If United does leave Channel 9 behind, I don't think that I'll be turning my cell phone off for takeoff anymore. LiveATC is already bookmarked on my browser.

But in the meantime, some enterprising soul out there needs to figure out a way to connect up to the existing Channel 9 system and broadcast the signal digitally to the new streaming A/V system. Anyone out there have an Arduino and an Airbus sitting around?

T G December 2, 2013 at 10:55 am

Flew transcontinental in these seats. First encounter.

Terribly uncomfortable.

And I was in exit row, 5'5" tall. Short seat cushions offer no leg support. Recessed back, no back support. No power. Little wifi. Full flight but I had an empty seat next to me. Even then I slip slided to California on the plastic cushions.

The plane is louder. No fabric to absorb noise.

And on that fuel savings : we flew at 26000 feet at 480 mph the whole way. With no weather. ????

SteveM606 February 17, 2014 at 09:59 pm

I just had the misfortune of sitting in the new Recaro seat on an Airbus A319 from FLL to ORD. Three and a half hours sitting on a board. These seats are narrow and hard. Armrests are thinner and shorter. And there is NO POWER OUTLETS ANYWHERE. The overhead bins were all losing their trim between bins.

This was easily the most uncomfortable flight I have ever experienced.

MAD_1K March 22, 2014 at 12:14 am

United's claim that the new Recaro's have more padding in the seat cushions than those used by Euro carriers for intra-theater flights is pure BS. Have you sat in these god-awful new seats yet? SteveM606 is dead on. Naugahyde tacked on a tree stump accurately describes them. I just sent Jeff Smisek another email inviting him and his inept interior design crew to ride one of these disgusting seats from SFO to IAD for 5 hours of discomfort. It's all about cost cutting and revenue enhancement and NOTHING about customer experience.

Join me on Twitter letting the world know about the disgusting state of customer service in the Unfriendly Skies.

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