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March 9, 2012

United’s Sky Interior Surprise

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By: Edward Russell
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Boeing Sky Interior on a United 737-900ER
Boeing Sky Interior on a United 737-900ER. (Photo by Boeing)
Boarding a recent United Airlines Boeing 737-800, I was excited to see that it was one of the few with the new Boeing Sky Interior. That excitement was replaced by surprise as I noticed that it lacked the seatback personal TVs (PTV) with DirecTV and electrical outlets in economy that come standard on the majority of the airline’s next generation 737 fleet. How could one of the airline’s newest aircraft lack these amenities that so many passengers consider standard on the airlines’ legacy Continental Airlines fleet?

Rahsaan Johnson, a spokesperson for United, said that the eight 737s that were delivered with the Sky Interior in 2011 were outfitted with seats manufactured by BE Aerospace. These seats were not yet certified to include PTVs or outlets at delivery. It takes up to 18 months for these features to be certified on new seat models, he added.

Safety concerns with seats manufactured by Koito is the likely reason for the lack of entertainment systems. Following the revelation that the manufacturer had falsified the results of safety tests on some of its seats, deliveries were halted in early 2010. Continental had ordered seats from Koiko for its scheduled 737 deliveries and was forced to find a rush replacement in order to maintain its delivery schedule. The airline very likely did not have time to certify the replacement seats with PTVs and outlets before delivery. United has not confirmed this conclusion.

Where are the PTVs?

Johnson said that the installation of PTVs and outlets on the four 737-800s and four -900ERs that were delivered with the BE Aerospace seats is currently ongoing. The airline expects this to be complete by the end of the year.

Boeing’s Sky Interior is noted for its larger windows, more spacious interior architecture and larger overhead bins. These largely cosmetic improvements are based on the passenger cabin designed for the B787. The first 737 with the new interior was a -800 delivered to flydubai in October 2010. More than 200 aircraft had been delivered with the improvements as of this past December, according to the manufacturer.

United will unlikely lose any bookings due to the lack of PTVs and outlets on the eight effected 737s. However, it remains a disappointment to travellers, especially those who choose the airline for these features. The fact that the amenities tab of both the airline’s website and app state that some flights operated by these aircraft have the aforementioned amenities (the author was on one where this was the case) does not help matters.

The situation is understandable. Koiko’s difficulties were out of the control of the airline and an aircraft is useless without seats. But in order to reap the full benefits of the Sky Interior, the airline should focus its full efforts on making sure to offer the amenities that so many of its travellers want and expect on its next generation B737 fleet.

Boeing Sky Interior

Edward Russell is a financial journalist and airline enthusiast based in New York. The son of a pilot, he’s been spotting and collecting airline memorabilia since a young age and has been writing about airlines in the US and Asia since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @e_russell.