United unveils new first-class seats in nearly once-in-a-decade refresh

United Airlines’ new first-class seat.

Courtesy: United Airlines

United Airlines on Wednesday unveiled its first new seat in nearly a decade for passengers at the front of the plane, becoming the latest carrier to upgrade its cabin as airlines battle for high-paying travelers.

The new first-class seat for narrow-body domestic flights features better technology like armrest wireless charging stations and winged headrests. There will also be an 11-inch by 19-inch barrier between the seats, which are in a two-by-two configuration.

United and rivals like Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways have upgraded their business or first-class seats in recent months to create more privacy and more room for customers willing to pay a premium to fly. Last year, Delta debuted domestic first-class seats that also feature privacy wings at the top of the seat, while JetBlue redesigned its Mint class to offer seats with sliding doors.

Airlines are clamoring for new cabins and aircraft, but supply chain delays have slowed some of those efforts, including at United, as the aviation industry struggles to rebuild itself after a pandemic slump.

The new United first-class seat will first appear on a Boeing 737 this month. The carrier said it expects to have it on 200 narrow-body aircraft like 737s and Airbus A321neos on domestic routes by 2026.

“There’s no one seat that can probably fulfill all of our needs but this is the one we want to build our future around in the domestic space,” Mark Muren, United’s managing director of identity, product and loyalty, told CNBC.

The seats will feature three kinds of charging: wireless, a USB-C and an AC outlet. They also feature 13-inch seatback screens, 18 inch-by 8.5-inch tray tables and a new seat cushion.

Wireless charging on United’s new first-class seat

Courtesy: United Airlines

Muren said the airline considered dozens of variations of the seat before settling on this model, which is made by French aerospace giant Safran.

Not every aircraft will get the new seat, but United is also planning to upgrade the current first-class seat, which it started flying in 2015. Some of the new features will include the privacy barriers at the headrest and new cushions.

United’s current domestic first-class seat.

United Airlines

United also flies some wide-body aircraft domestically between hubs. Those planes have its highest-end Polaris seat, which converts into a bed.

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