Test Driving The New United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

a seat belt on a seat

While there have been bigger announcements from United over the past couple weeks involving their move to a new international business class product dubbed Polaris, they’ve quietly been rolling out a new domestic first class product.  I’d seen the pictures of it but hadn’t gotten a chance to fly it until recently.  Since that first trip 10 days ago I think I’ve had it half a dozen times easily.  I’ve arrived at some positive and negative feedback on the seat.  Here are my thoughts:


They did a really good job on the seat itself.  It’s a comfortable seat, plenty wide for bigger folks than me.  It has a functional headrest that easily moves up and down and stays in position if you extend the sides.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

The seat itself doesn’t so much recline as cradle you, where the bottom of the seat slides forward as you recline.  This is a big plus for headroom, in that when the passenger in front of you reclines they don’t end up in your lap.  The armrest is wide enough with ample padding and has a spot to park a laptop or tablet when not in use, though not during takeoff or landing.  The only nit I have on the seat itself is that there isn’t much in the way of lumbar/side support.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

The addition of a universal power outlet is a big plus.  One of the my biggest critiques of United planes is the addition of things like Wifi (when it actually works) and in-flight entertainment but no power for the devices that use these features.  United solves that with the power outlet in these seats.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

Two seatback pockets.  Some of the old Continental planes only have 1 seatback pocket.  It’s deep, but there’s something to be said for having two separate pockets, especially for longer flights where you might want to have a few things accessible.  Given how bad the mesh seatback pockets are on the slimline seats, this sort of design is a welcome plus.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat


If it’s a water bottle holder, it’s a poorly conceived one.  I didn’t notice this at first, but my best friend David brought up that there’s a perfect place for a water bottle.  Except it’s also where you’d plug in a power cord for your laptop or tablet.  There’s also a thinner tray that runs alongside the seat which might be a place to park your phone or tablet when not using them. But, the space in front of the plug does seem intentionally designed.  So, just pick whether you want to store a water bottle there or plug something in. Just don’t plan on both unless you have a really small power adapter.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

Oh, and, um, USB?  United Airlines spent a bunch of time figuring out what customers would want for the future.  They thought enough to put in a plug, but left out the obvious USB charger.  USB charging outlets are popping up everywhere nowadays.  Newly built hotels have done a great job incorporating them into key places in hotel rooms.  Alas, United either didn’t think it was necessary or decided to save a few pennies per seat here.  The saving grace?  The installation location of the power outlet leaves plenty of space to add a USB outlet.  What say you, United?

Be careful with your drinks if you use the table.  The tray table is two pieces, not the same size.  I guess they did that to add the tablet holder, which I view only marginally useful.  I travel with an iPad holder that also doubles as a stand, and I doubt I’m the only one.  But, I guess it beats a sharp stick in the eye.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

Except when you go to close your tray table.  See, the difference in the size of the two pieces means that when you fold the table up it overlaps the drink tray.  It’s easy enough to make the mistake if you don’t notice, especially since I can’t recall any tray table on any airplane ever that folded over the drink tray.  Sounds like a small thing but I’m guessing a fair number of people are going to dump a glass on themselves. And, if you’re smart enough to remember, you just need to hold your drink in one hand, flip up the storage arm and fold the tray table with your other hand, hoping the storage arm doesn’t fall back down while you’re holding your drink and folding up your tray table.  Yup, intelligent design.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

The tray table is heavy and doesn’t sit on the armrest.  This is, by far, my biggest issue with the seat.  The tray table is heavy, but it’s not sturdy since it doesn’t actually rest on anything and most of the weight is hanging on that second, larger leaf.  And, it’s so close to being able to sit on the armrest.

United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat

Why does this matter?  The tray table literally makes me nauseous typing on it.  See what I mean:

I’m really not typing very hard at all and the laptop is centered on the tray table.  It’s also a pretty light MacBook Air.  But, the screen is bouncing all over the place.  It’s United’s own version of perpetual turbulence, whenever you start typing.  You can make it a bit better by raising the armrest slightly, but that’s not bound to last as the seat wears in and the armrest moves more fluidly.  Of course, if you do this, you can’t use the armrest to, well, rest your arm on.  This would have been such an easy thing to design, since some previous United tray tables have sat on the armrest.

Design Flaws For the Duration

I’m really surprised that there could be design flaws of this magnitude on the new United domestic first class seat.  It strikes me that such innovations probably didn’t go through much actual customer testing.  A comfortable seat is nice, but they pretty much had that before.  This one is probably better, but not nearly enough better to offset the disaster of the tray table for business travelers.  The universal power outlet is a nice plus but it leaves out a USB charging outlet.

I don’t think it’s difficult to create an intelligent design for an airline seat.  I think United Airlines really missed the boat on features that a traveler like me may used hundreds of times over the life of the new seats.  I guess the only other saving grace here is that the more United works to upsell first class seats cheaply, the less their elite members will get these seats for free.  So, only the people who pay more will be disappointed!

The post Test Driving The New United Airlines Domestic First Class Seat was published first on Pizza in Motion

Have you tried the new product?  Do you like it or think it needs improvement?


    1. Michael, do you use a laptop on the tray table? There’s no design reason it needs to have that much instability. Plenty of tray tables on the market that are much more stable.

  1. Note to the Author,
    As a 30 year vet of UA , I can say the senior team here does not do enough actual / real life testing before purchase commitment. Your observations were easily noted but will have little affect.

  2. Hector, effect NOT affect, pizza man you need to start enjoying the travel rather than the bleedin’ chair, very sad indeed.

    1. Leo, I’ve been on a plane 23 of the last 25 weeks for business. As a business traveler, I want to be able to work on a plane, and I want a functional seat. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. If it’s a free day for a vacation, that’s a different story.

    2. @Leo – you need to stop worrying about people’s spelling and stop reading blogs that bother you so much

  3. While I think these are huge oversights by United, I am more shocked that the actual seat designers (whose job it is to make a good and functional seat) did not pick up/rectify or apply their expertise to these issues. Surely they sometimes travel too? #baffled

    1. Shaun, I agree that these issues should have been picked up by someone. To your point, I am a little surprised that some of these ideas (tray table) made it out of the design stage.

  4. Thanks for the comprehensive review—the NY Times Travel section may be interested in repeating it.

    1. SrevesMiles, I think this is more granular than the NYT would want to publish. You and I (and a group of others) care about such things, but I think that’s a smallish group.

      1. To all the people that say the first class seat is kinda bad. It is very functional. Being just a kid I was able to sit in a first class seat for eight hours flying to Venice Italy and I had absolutely no problem sitting in that seat. After seeing coach seats, first class is the way to go.

  5. Edward and Sean as I noted prior, before my spelling was corrected, the seat situation is a very interesting one. You see the manufacture wants to become your vendor. To obtain that contract they will actually build what you want. Example- Recaro had a very nice seat and I mean comfortable-but we wanted more seats to fit in the same amount of space, So POOF! a newer lighter weight…..SLIMLINE…..seat. hoooraaay!!! 20 more seats in the same space. So you see I dont think they missed it….they just did what we wanted. Now build us 500 in 3 months…..can you see how the tray table slipped by? I do not like or agree with how certain aspects of business work, but its reality. I felt like we were saying …” the comfort of our customer does not really matter”..they want safe and cheap… Wow I hope I spelled everything corectly or Leo is going to get me. ha

    1. Hector, I can definitely see how things like the seat issues make their way through a “big business” process. I just think, at this point, the company should have processes in place to limit these sorts of problems. I think I spelled everything correctly. 🙂

  6. From the airline that is going to call their new business class “Polaris”? Did you really expect it to be great? I guess we should be happy that there is a power plug. I don’t think United is really improving itself.

    1. John,
      I completely agree. These are the kind of comments and suggestions that the United Senior Team, including its board members, needs to hear. Unfortunately most customers never take the time or make the effort to let their dissatisfaction be known.

      1. Being a kid and being able to sit in a first class seat to Venice Italy was totally worth it. For long flights definitely go for first class. There is wifi, complimentary drinks, nice food, and a USB under the flap of the armrest. The wifi is six dollars for the whole flight. But after seeing coach seats for all my flights, first class is the way to go and I was able to use my MacBook, iPad, and phone perfectly fine on the plane.

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