Take a look inside United’s newly configured Boeing 777

You can spot a Boeing 777 by the pinched (vs cone-shaped) rear tip of the fuselage (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Slowly but surely, United is rolling out its popular true lie-flat business and first class seats across its international long haul fleet.

According to its website, all of the carrier’s Boeing 747′s and 767′s now have the new business and first class seats.  The revamp of its Boeing 777-200 fleet is about halfway there– with 24 out of 46 completed.

United is also installing brand new coach seats in its B777′s, and reconfiguring the cabin from a    2-5-2 to a 3-3-3 layout. (You can see a seat map here.) United’s B777′s are 11-13 years old, on average. Eventually, Continental’s 22 B777′s will be folded into the United fleet, but for now will remain with Continental’s BusinessFirst configuration– which also offers a true lie-flat seat.

From SFO, United has deployed the newly configured B777s on nonstop routes to: London, Tokyo-NRT, and Shanghai.

In December, United invited me out to its maintenance hanger at SFO where most of the reconfiguring is taking place. Below you’ll find photos and info on the new design. Once you’ve had a look, or if you’ve flown on one of these birds, leave your comments about it below!

Check out how big the first class section looks without seats-- like a gymnasium! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At the back in coach, the B777 is now configured 3-3-3 vs. the old 2-5-2. The new Weber seat "pivots" back, instead of leaning back into the face of the person behind you. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Knee-room in Economy Plus is not bad! Economy Plus provides 34" of "pitch" -- three more inches than standard coach at 31". (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Every coach seat gets a new 7" seat back screen with 150 hours of programming with a variety of movies (all free), television programs, games, and music. If you'd rather BYO entertainment, United's also installed two power outlets for every row of 3 coach seats-- which means you might have to share the juice. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United and British Airways are the only two carriers to offer front AND rear-facing business class seats. United said it can fit more business class seats into the cabin this way-- and has received few complaints from rear-facers. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here's another angle so you can see what I mean by forward and rear-facing seats. All biz class seats now have a power plug, USB 2.0 plug and iPhone/iPod input plug. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Seats are configured 2-4-2 which means two middle seats for each row. But there's a nice wide armrest separating them. However, it will still take some maneuvering to get out of the middle seat if your seatmate is in full recline. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Plenty of legroom and a big 17" screen in both business and first class (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are eight "First Suite" seats on the B777 configured 1-2-1. Niiice! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here's a full frontal view of the big First Suite seat. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There's plenty of storage space for personal effects in the First Suite-- nice on those long hauls to Asia! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Many thanks to the fine folks at United Services at SFO for taking us behind the scenes! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

So, what do you think? In coach, is 3-3-3 better than 2-5-2? The lie-flat seats in biz are clearly better than the previous version. And how do you think the First Suite stacks up against competitors? Please leave your comments below.

(Chris McGinnis publishes The BAT and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers.  Do you have comments or questions about this post? Email Chris.)

United and British Airways are the only two airlines in the world to offer forward AND rear-facing business class seats. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
  • Wilson F Fang

    It’s quite interesting to me how UA’s “First Suite” doesn’t even look as fancy as JetBlue’s upcoming domestic First Class product. No wonder they’re going the elite status revenue+miles rigmarole. Can’t imagine anyone who can afford biz class would pay to fly with them instead of their Star Alliance partners on international routes.

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  • Herman

    Thank you for sharing those pics. I would like to suggest showing those “premium seats” on emergency exit..where usually have good legroom.. but no window… will be great to show them in all versions of their 777-200..especially for those for long haul flight..two classe EWR-HKG

  • Paul Shepard

    Fuhgettabout United and fly Star Alliance partner Lufthansa to Europe.

  • B. Montrachet

    David Fluharty has it right. United is 2 generations behind Cathay/ANA /SQ, not to mention the Middle eastern carriers. With Star Alliance no longer an exclusive Club and most members offering superior overseas service and comfort, apart from 1K upgrades where UA first merely apes business on other carriers, there is little incentive to fly them internationally. After the merger they had a chance to leapfrog the previous short sighted United policies, instead they adopted them. What a pity for employees and customers alike.

  • David Fluharty

    It is quite clear that United is playing catch up with other carriers in YC with the 3-3-3 configuration. But the BC configuration is totally antiquated and unacceptable in this day and age. The United FC seating is virtually identical to other BC configurations, including Delta’s. Wow, this is a total disappointment by United and will set them back years with in their premium products. Continental had it right. What a shame to see that vision disregarded.

  • chris

    eeeuuw. Luckily I have not been stuck in the middle on one of these flights yet. I’m flying UAL to London later this summer and will be on the lookout for what you are reporting here. Thanks for the entertaining commentary!

  • Alan

    I’ve flown the reconfigured United 777-200 in biz and was unfortunate to book last-minute and get stuck in a middle seat. your picture above is inaccurate regarding the wide armrests. Those wide armrests are between the aisle seat and the next middle seat only. If you look back at the pics you took, the two middle seats are separated by two VERY narrow armrests that slide down and away so that you are essentially sharing a twin size bed with your neighbor in the middle. And, with the alternating rows, some of them have the footwells directly next to each other…which meant not only was i sharing a very narrow “bed” with a total stranger, but our feet were rubbing against each other all night. It was the worst business class experience I’ve ever had and will never fly United’s 777-200 in this configuration again. I simply avoid all 777 on United to be safe and now fly other carriers unless I’m certain I will get a 747-400 or 767-300 on United. Clearly whoever designed this layout never had to fly 14 hours in that middle section with the snug together footwells next to a total (fat) stranger.

  • Walt Neff

    Thanks, Ted, for the links and info. Interesting pictures of United’s Employee Open House.

    I’m very glad that the SF maintenance facility was given the task of refurbishing the planes. The program will keep the skilled crews busy for quite a spell. Hopefully the success of the program will lead to similar work in the future as United fine tunes their aircraft for specific routes.

    Thanks, Chris, for the article and great cabin shots of the planes. It was a good PR move on United’s part to allow you access to the aircraft as they go through rehab. The public needs to see the major effort that United has put forth to make their planes more comfortable and user friendly.

    I’m going to have to make Paris an unplanned destination. While the destination might not be a brand new route for United, it should be a money maker and popular. I’m anxious to sample the new configuration that will be utlized on this route out of SFO.

  • chris

    Very interesting! Thanks, Ted!

  • Ted K.

    @Walt re : Pan Am hangar
    The best answer I can dig up is maybe. The picture below is from Fleet Week 2007 (first link). SFIA management hasn’t really put all that much of their history online (second link). There are anecdotes that indicate that UAL and FedEx both are using portions of Pan Am’s former base at SFO. But anecdotes are NOT hard evidence. I was hoping to find a chronology for the UAMF but nothing turned up. My interest stems from having lived on Seventh Avenue in San Bruno just across the overpass from the UAMF.

    1) “10/07/2007- Fleet Week @ UAL/IMG_6271.JPG” (AStriker.com image)
    2) “the history of SFO” (FlySFO.com page)

  • MP

    Yes, the 3-3-3 is sooooo much better for comfort. I was on a SQ flight from Singapore to SFO on the 777-300ER and was the new 3-3-3 config and such a great ride as compared to the 2-5-2 on UA. Great idea UA is joining the party on the new configs.

  • chris

    Thanks, Walt. I’m not sure if it was Pan Am or not…it’s been United for as long as I know and that sign along 101 has been there since the 70′s. Anybody else know for sure?

  • Walt Neff

    The new configuration does a lot to improve the comfort for passengers in all classes.

    A complete rebuild of the interior also brings the freshness of a new aircraft. Starting with a almost raw fuselage interior, very little if anything, from the old plane can be utilized. This fresh approach to modernizing a cabin design is a financially sound move for United in that the public perception of the interior is that of a new airplane.

    United has definitely come a long way in improving the quality of the ride for the long haul passenger.

    Not certain, but isn’t the facility that United is using for the overhauls a former Pan-Am hanger?

  • Simon Allardice (@simonallardice)

    I feel like the first suite would look a lot better in leather, looks pretty cheap IMO and not all that wide. The 3-3-3 is certainly better, perhaps not for those who like to travel in the 2 on the sides, but presumably as the aircraft narrows at the back there’ll be a few of those rows, 5 in the middle is just horrible.

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