Coming to United: Less Comfort in Coach

Can coach seats get much more uncomfortable than they already are? United’s plan to add extra seats to its B777s would certainly be a step in that direction.

Can coach seats get much more uncomfortable than they already are?

Yes, according to industry trade publication Aviation Week, which is reporting that United may be on the verge of retrofitting some of its B777 aircraft to add an extra seat to every row in the coach cabin. That would make for 10-across seating (3 x 4 x 3), in place of the current nine-across configuration (2 x 5 x 2).

The modified aircraft would have almost 100 more seats than most of United’s current B777s, with 28 seats in business-class, 98 in premium economy, and 238 in coach. It’s unclear how many of United’s 74 B777s would be retrofitted to the high-density configuration.

In fairness, United wouldn’t be the first airline to overstuff its B777s. American’s most recently purchased B777s feature 10-across seating in coach, with legroom as little as 31 inches and seat widths in some cases squeezed down to a very tight 17 inches. You’ll enjoy more spacious seating on a Southwest B737.

It’s not clear how much further the airlines can go in adding seats and further eroding what little comfort remains in coach. But the trend is clear, and it’s not likely to be reversed soon, if ever.

The airlines, of course, will be happy to upsell travelers to their economy-plus seats. In some cases, that may make sense, financially and otherwise. But for the great majority of air travelers, who can’t justify the extra expense of premium economy, moves such as United’s should make the relatively spacious seating featured by the likes of JetBlue and Virgin America all the more attractive.

At least for now, there are alternatives.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your strategy for dealing with the airlines’ squeeze in coach?

This article originally appeared on

By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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