United released details of the new slimline coach seats that will eventually be installed on more than 500 United planes, beginning with the CRJ-700s, followed by the 737 fleet. In all, more than 60,000 of the new seats will be fitted.
United is touting the new seats as part of its "customer-friendly upgrades," a handy tie-in with its newly resuscitated "friendly skies" advertising campaign.
With full flights the new normal, flying in coach has never been more uncomfortable. That represents an opportunity for United, or any airline, to take the lead in elevating the coach experience.
So, do United's new seats in any way promise to mitigate the discomfort of flying coach? Will they make the skies any friendlier, as United would have us believe?
According to the photos and seat specs United has released, they will not.
The new seats are handsome enough. And they will apparently be somewhat lighter than the current seats, reducing fuel burn.
But when it comes to the seat-of-the-pants experience, although United's news release makes repeated mention of "customer comfort," the only specific given is a vague reference to "more ergonomic and supportive cushioning."
If United is genuinely interested in improving the coach experience, the key isn't so much the seats themselves as it is the distance between the seats.
With a paltry 31 inches of pitch (industryspeak for legroom) on most of its 737s, United's coach cabin is among the least friendly in the skies. By contrast, Southwest, hardly a leader in customer comfort, features 32 or 33 inches of pitch throughout most of its 737 fleet.
For United to make good on its own advertising claims, it must go beyond aesthetics and fuel-savings and focus on the customer experience. Until it does, the "friendly skies" slogan will ring hollow.
Reader Reality Check
Do you find flying United a "friendly" experience?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.