UPDATE: Why it’s not United’s fault that its new Boeing 787 interior looks a tad dated

August 2, 2012

Comfort, Multimedia

United 787 main 150x150 UPDATE: Why its not Uniteds fault that its new Boeing 787 interior looks a tad datedUPDATED to include comment from United Airlines, which says it is working “aggressively” to bring inflight Internet to the 787 twinjet

Proclaiming that the Boeing 787 was well worth the wait United Airlines today unveiled the twinjet’s interior to great fanfare. But behind the scenes, the carrier has been pressing the airframer to cut into production and start installing the latest-generation inflight entertainment systems as well as airborne connectivity on the long-delayed aircraft.

Like so many 787 customers, United (then Continental) placed its order for IFE and seats a number of years ago (these were selected from the 787 catalogue). Since that time, the industry has seen rapid advancements in onboard technology. For instance, new integrated IFE/seats for economy class are now all the rage. United has been retrofitting Boeing 767-400s with Panasonic Avionics’ sleek new Eco 9i smart monitor integrated into B/E Aerospace’s popular Pinnacle slimline seat; the carrier wanted to roll out the same on its new 787, which features a nine abreast economy-class cabin.

United 787 config map UPDATE: Why its not Uniteds fault that its new Boeing 787 interior looks a tad datedBut Boeing has been understandably reticent to do anything that would cause further delivery delays. Consequently United has had to accept a more dated interior for the twinjet for now, though Boeing is expected to ultimately cut into production and add the new integrated monitors (see David Parker Brown’s photo of the current seats and IFE).

Bringing inflight high-speed Internet to passengers on the 787 could take longer. Late last year United contracted Panasonic to provide Ku-band satellite-supported connectivity on its 787s, as well as on its Boeing 747s, 757s, 767s, 777s, Airbus A319s and A320s; LiveTV had already won the business to fit the Continental portion of United’s fleet with Ka-band connectivity.

To date, Boeing has not made Ku-band connectivity linefit offerable on the 787.

A United spokesman tells the APEX editor’s blog that a cut-in date for the Eco 9i and Pinnacle seat has still be be determined. He says a cut-in date for connectivity has also not been set, but the carrier is “working aggresively with Boeing on this”.

United’s current 787 economy product features a 32in pitch. Economy Plus retains the same nine abreast configuration as economy, but provides a 35in pitch, according to the United spokesman. The width of these seats is 17.3in.

The carrier’s BusinessFirst section as expected features Continental’s common international seat product.

United today tweeted that it will initially operate the 787 domestically, then between Denver and Tokyo Narita. It says further route announcements are forthcoming.

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About Mary Kirby

Editor in Chief - APEX Media Platform | Previously Senior Editor at Flight International where she led the magazine's coverage of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and aircraft interiors | Former proprietor of the highly-regarded Runway Girl blog, which focused on the passenger experience | Regularly speaks at industry conferences about airborne communications, ancillary revenue opportunities for airlines and social media | You can connect with Mary on Twitter, LinkedIn

View all posts by Mary Kirby

11 Responses to “UPDATE: Why it’s not United’s fault that its new Boeing 787 interior looks a tad dated”

  1. Kris Ziel Says:

    As far as I know, DEN-NRT is the first intercontinental route with a launch date announced, but will by no means be the first flown.


  2. glen towler Says:

    This just shows how much faster information tech moves than any another technology aircraft just can’t keep up. So I guess it will be a while for before United do upgrade there IFE as this is brand new needs to earn its keep before taking it out service for upgrades.


    • Mary Kirby Says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Glen. I broke the story last year when I was working at Flightglobal. Quoting the piece: “Many IFE systems have sat on shelves for years waiting to be installed on the 787. Since the lifecycle of IFE in terms of equipment and ideas is 18 months, a three-year wait equates to nearly two turns, making the difference between kit ordered in 2006-2007 for delivery in 2008 appear quite stark when compared with the lighter, slimmer platforms with capacitive touchscreens available today. For example, All Nippon Airways recently unveiled the interiors of the 787s that will operate on its regional and domestic routes. While the seatback IFE in economy class would have been considered state-of-the-art when the carrier placed its order, it now appears dated on ANA’s new 787s. Economy-class seats have also reduced in size during the past five years, with today’s models vastly slimmer – and subsequently more fuel efficient. Boeing, however, is reticent to make significant changes to 787 cabin technology and interiors for fear of further delaying deliveries, multiple sources say.”


      • Jonathan Norris Says:

        Hey Mary. Typically an airline has to commit to their cabin definition (of a long-range aircraft) about 1 year before they take delivery of an aircraft. If it’s a new aircraft such as the 787 or A350 then you can expect this period to be 2-3 years – especially if they plan to install ‘new’ seats, IFE etc.

        The life cycle of consumer electronics such as smartphones and tablets – which heavily influence airline and passenger’s expectations of what they want onboard – is now down to as little as 6 months (maybe even shorter).

        This means that when defining your cabin you’re going to see 3 to 4 generations of consumer electronics come and go before you receive your aircraft … assuming that the aircraft is delivered to schedule.

        Hardly surprising then that upon receipt the IFE may appear a little dated.


  3. Dan Says:

    But Mary, surely it can’t be Boeing’s fault that the Economy cabin is configured 3-3-3.

    A terrible choice which ensures this technological marvel of a jet is actually a substantial step backwards for most of the people who will fly on it…


    • Mary Kirby Says:

      The hard truth is that most Boeing 787 customers are selecting nine abreast (even though the aircraft was originally touted for its eight abreast appeal). If people are not willing to pay the true cost of air fare, then airlines are not going to offer expansive seats in economy class. United is offering 32in pitch for economy (it could probably have gotten away with 31in). I wonder if they’ll further tighten things up in the back when they introduce the new integrated IFE/seats.


      • Jonathan Norris Says:

        The A350 has followed a similar route in terms of seat numbers. When I was working on the original A350 aircraft back in 2006 (which retained the A330 fuselage diameter) Boeing were going to the market and pushing that they could install wider seats at 8-abreast than the A330/A350 with the 787.

        Airbus then took the decision to increase the fuselage diameter, creating the A350XWB and ensuring that they could install wider seats than Boeing at 8-abreast, and also offer a wider 9-abreast configuration than the 787.

        But what happens when you introduce a wider fuselage? Thanks to the economic reality of running an airline some are now trying to squeeze 10-abreast into the same fuselage – and in parallel introducing a reduced seat pitch with skinny seats.

        At the same time the world’s population is expanding (both vertically and horizontally).

        As Mary says it comes down to simple economics. The majority of passengers are not willing to pay a realistic air fare which would allow airlines to introduce wider seats and/or wider pitched seats. Any airline trying to put up their prices by the margin required would be simply undercut by the competition because the vast majority of us still buy air tickets based principally on cost.



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