United unveils first Boeing 737 MAX 8 routes with new cabins, in-seat TVs

Jun 7, 2021

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United’s got a shiny new plane coming to its fleet.

The Chicago-based carrier is slated to take delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 8 in the coming weeks, joining the carrier’s existing fleet of larger MAX 9s. The MAX 8’s inaugural flight is scheduled for July 15, per the latest Cirium timetables and confirmed directly by the carrier.

The inaugural will leave from Houston’s George Bush Airport (IAH) at 7 a.m. and arrive in Newark (EWR) at 11:34 a.m., all times local. United plans five other MAX 8 flights on its first day of service — three more between EWR and IAH, as well as a round-trip between Houston and Las Vegas (LAS).

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The new jets will continue to operate twice daily from Houston to EWR and once daily to Las Vegas throughout July. Cirium schedules show that United will fly the plane exclusively on the former route from August onwards, though the current plan is of course subject to change due to the pandemic, possible delivery-related delays and other factors.

For now, fares on the inaugural, Flight 408 on July 15, start at $299 in coach and jump to $813 in biz. There’s no saver award availability, though dynamically priced MileagePlus awards are available for 26,400 miles in coach and 82,500 in biz.

In addition to the plane’s first batch of routes, United also briefly posted what appeared to be the MAX 8’s seat map and inflight amenity guide over the weekend, though those have since been removed. A previous version of the carrier’s website cached by Google notes that the plane will feature 166 seats, as well as a slew of passenger-friendly amenities.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

For one, every seat will feature seat-back TV screens, with on-demand entertainment. This is a major improvement compared to United’s larger MAX 9, which ditched screens in favor of streaming entertainment.

United is seemingly shifting from its pre-pandemic strategy of outfitting its domestic fleet with streaming entertainment offerings instead of seat-back TVs. In recent weeks, the carrier has reportedly been considering re-installing seat-back TVs to its domestic fleet, though there’s been no official confirmation from the airline.

CEO Scott Kirby recently teased a product-focused announcement coming soon at the annual Bernstein Strategic Decisions conference, saying that “we got more exciting announcements coming on the product and investing in the product.”

With the MAX 8 featuring seat-back screens, perhaps United is indeed moving forward with its rumored plan to install seat-back TVs on its new and existing domestic fleets.

There will also be power outlets available in all rows on the MAX 8 — a notable shift from the carrier’s legacy 737-800s, which only have outlets in the first-class and extra-legroom coach cabins.

United will outfit the MAX 8 in a two-class configuration, with 16 first-class recliners spread across rows 1 through 4, and a 25-row coach cabin from row 7 through 38.

United’s MAX 9 (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Extra-legroom Economy Plus seats will feature an additional three to eight inches of pitch and will be located in the forward part of the coach cabin.

Like the rest of United’s fleet, the plane will be configured with Wi-Fi internet access, though it wasn’t immediately clear which provider the carrier was using. I personally hope it’s Viasat, which is United’s speediest and most reliable provider.

Other improvements expected for the MAX 8s include a fresh cabin with fancy overhead lighting and larger overhead bins.

One of the major drawbacks to United’s MAX 9 is its “comically undersized” lavatories. Hopefully, the airline worked to address that issue with the MAX 8 — we’ll be there on day one to report back on what we find.

Putting the MAX 8 on the schedule comes just over three months after United chief operating officer Andrew Nocella shared with employees that the carrier would be boosting its MAX commitment with 25 new aircraft orders slated for delivery in 2023. Nocella also announced that United would accelerate delivery on its existing MAX orders, with more jets coming in 2021 and 2022.

In addition to the MAX 8 and MAX 9, United has also ordered Boeing’s largest MAX, the 10 variant. These jets are expected to be delivered in the coming years.

United’s move to boost its MAX order book is a big win for Boeing, whose beleaguered jet was grounded for nearly two years after two fatal crashes blamed on the plane’s new flight control system.

The plane was recertified by the Federal Aviation Administration in November 2020 and resumed flying for American Airlines on Dec. 29, 2020. United became the second U.S. carrier to return the MAX to the sky on Feb. 11, 2021, with a flight from Denver (DEN) to Houston.

Featured photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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