Why I Really Don’t Like Some Seats on United’s New 737 MAX

Apr 24, 2018

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This Monday, United took delivery of its very first Boeing 737 MAX 9, and I was one of the first onboard, for an exclusive tour of the new plane.

The MAX offers passenger improvements like high-tech lighting and significantly reduced engine noise, but this particular variant also sports some features that passengers might be less thrilled about, such as compact lavatories and streaming content instead of seat-back entertainment. The component I’m especially bummed to see might not even be on your radar, though — it’s hidden within a handful of the seat belts.

I’m talking about the new integrated airbags, installed within the seat belts in Row 1 (first class) and Row 7 (first row of Economy Plus). They’re easy enough to avoid — you can simply book a seat in any other row — but I’m otherwise quite fond of the forward-most rows of both sections. Hence the conflict.

In theory, airbags enable airlines to reduce the distance between seats and bulkhead walls, and in some cases are required by the FAA, as United suggests here:

The airbag seatbelts were installed in the first class bulkhead seats and on the right hand first row of Economy Plus to meet the latest safety requirements spelled out by the FAA. These requirements are based on several factors, such as manufacturing date of the aircraft, and seating configuration.

It’s possible that airbags do more harm than good, though. I find them to be especially uncomfortable in certain positions, and when you’re trying to sleep. I’ve even left my belt unbuckled entirely several times, when I otherwise wouldn’t have dreamed of not wearing it whenever seated, such as on a recent Air Canada 777-300ER flight. I imagine other passengers do the same to avoid having all that extra bulk around their waist for the entire flight.

I’ve booked a seat in Row 7 on my upcoming United 737 MAX flight in June, so I’ll see if it’s really that much of a bother in practice. If you don’t want to get stuck with one yourself on an upcoming trip, there’s an easy enough workaround — just book a seat in any other row.

For more on United’s 737 MAX, see:

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