United pulls lie-flat seats from all premium transcon flights

Apr 22, 2020

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Update 4/23: United has shifted course — the airline now plans to add a 787-8 Dreamliner to one of its daily Newark-San Francisco round-trips, currently scheduled to be operated by a Boeing 737-800. With this change, business-class travelers will have an opportunity to book a lie-flat seat between Newark and the West Coast on one flight each day.

Over the last few years, United has offered lie-flat business-class seats on every single premium transcontinental flight, with flights between Newark and Los Angeles and San Francisco operated by a mix of Boeing 757s, 777s and 787 Dreamliners, including the 787-10. All flights between Boston and San Francisco received similar treatment, as well, with 2-2 lie-flats on a mix of United 757-200s.

Business class on United's 787-10. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
Business class on United’s 787-10. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Now, following an unprecedented drop in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, United has shifted its strategy significantly, operating all of its premium transcon flights with more fuel-efficient aircraft during the month of May. Per United:

Due to the significant drop in premium demand, beginning May 4, we will operate more efficient Boeing 737 aircraft on transcontinental routes between New York/Newark and Los Angeles and San Francisco and between San Francisco and Boston which were previously operated with Boeing 757 aircraft. We will continue monitoring and reviewing demand and adjust our schedule as necessary.

As a result, most May transcon flights sport standard first-class recliners, rather than the lie-flat seats passengers are accustomed to on these routes.

Seats are still being sold as business class, however, and pricing has not been adjusted — while $690 may seem entirely reasonable for a transcon lie-flat, it’s less appealing for a recliner, especially when economy cabins are going out nearly empty, and you can book a coach seat on the same plane for as little as $132.

Business-class passengers will find recliner seats, rather than United’s Polaris or 2-2 lie-flats. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Anyone flying at the moment most likely won’t be able to adjust plans, since travelers are only boarding planes when absolutely necessary. Still, if you’re after a lie-flat seat for your essential trip, there are some options — JetBlue continues to offer Mint service from Boston (BOS) and New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), and Delta is offering at least one daily lie-flat flight between some of the above cities on most days in May.

As for American Airlines, the carrier’s A321T is currently grounded, though, as of now, AA is scheduled to resume some lie-flat transcon service as soon as May 7. United, meanwhile, is currently scheduled to resume its regular transcon schedule on June 4, though I can’t see that happening unless demand somehow returns within the next few weeks.

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