United Airlines is testing a lie-flat premium product for the Boeing 737 Max 10, as part of a plan to expand its domestic premium transcontinental offering.
The 737s with lie-flat first class seats would allow the Chicago-based carrier to offer its premium domestic product in more markets where it sees demand, as well as replace its fleet of aging premium domestic Boeing 757s, United president Scott Kirby says at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver.
"It's been really successful in the markets that we have it in," he says on United's lie-flat domestic offerings today. "There are other markets out of Newark and [Washington] Dulles that we would like to have it but we simply don't have airplanes to do it today."
The airline operates 15 757-200s in a premium domestic configuration with 28 lie-flat first class seats and 114 economy seats, for a total of 142 passengers. The aircraft fly almost exclusively between Newark and both Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as occasionally between Boston and both West Coast cities.
A United 737-10 with a lie-flat premium product would have fewer seats than its standard configuration on the aircraft, says Kirby.
Airline executives have previously said the Max 10 will seat around 189 passengers.
Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways have taken the lead in offering a premium lie-flat product in domestic markets in recent years. Both have more aircraft with the products than either American Airlines or United, allowing them to surpass their competitors in terms of market breadth.
JetBlue is the leader with its Mint offering on the Airbus A321. It flies Mint aircraft, which feature 16 lie-flat premium seats, on 12 transcontinental routes from its Boston, Fort Lauderdale and New York John F Kennedy bases.
"Would San Francisco to Washington DC work? Probably. That's part about creating a fleet we can experiment with and see which markets work and which don't," says Kirby on United's plans to expand its premium transcontinental offerings with the 737-10.
The carrier has a "second prototype" lie-flat seat for the Max 10 that it will begin testing with passengers this fall, he says. The product would enter service when the aircraft begins arriving in 2020.
United has 100 737-10s on order, Flight Fleets Analzyer shows.