The refreshed 757 offers the best economy seats in United’s fleet

Feb 20, 2020

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In 2016, United embarked on a massive aircraft retrofit program. Since then, we’ve mostly focused our attention on the new Polaris and Premium Plus cabins. But some of UA’s smaller jets are also receiving notable upgrades.

For instance, the Airbus A319 is getting another row of first class and some CRJ700s are being converted to the much-superior CRJ550. But the one plane that hasn’t drawn much attention is the Boeing 757, even though it’s receiving a small makeover that’ll be great for a few lucky coach passengers.

With the Boeing 757-200 retrofit program, United is modernizing these aging planes.

Specifically, the airline is re-upholstering the 16-seat biz cabin…

… installing the latest version of its IFE system…

… modernizing the lavatories…

… and squeezing in seven more economy seats thanks to the switch to slimmer seats and the removal of a closet in front of row 8.

You’ll also find updated branding and color schemes throughout the jet.

Lots of United’s older 757s have sagging biz seats, so I particularly appreciated the firmness of the new upholstery on a recent flight from Seattle to Newark.

Though United is densifying the coach cabin, the resulting configuration will actually represent an improvement for select passengers.

On the surface, the addition of slimline seats with less recline and the reduction of three Economy Plus seats may seem like a net negative, especially to United elites. But that’s not the case.

In the new configuration, United added a third over-wing exit row — Row 22 — but didn’t classify it as Economy Plus. Instead, the carrier is selling these seats as a Preferred location in the coach cabin.

That’s good news for United elite members since they get free Preferred seating at time of booking. And even if you don’t have status with UA, the price to buy up to Preferred is much lower than to Economy Plus. Just note that Preferred seats don’t get complimentary meals on premium transcontinental routes.

But the really great news is just how much of an upgrade Row 22 represents.

Because of a missing seat in front, the two window seats actually offer more legroom than almost every single Economy Plus seat on the 757. Plus, they sport three inches of recline.

The aisle and middle seats in Row 22 are quite comfortable as well and offer three more inches of legroom compared to coach.

Row 21 is also an exit row classified as Preferred seating with three more inches of legroom. Beware, however, that these couple seats don’t recline.

Now I bet you’re wondering how you can score an upgrade to Row 21 or 22. Well, United uses these 757s on a slew of domestic and shorter international routes. At the moment, the retrofitted cabin is installed on seven 757-200s with the following registrations:

United has confirmed that the retrofits will be complete by the end of 2021. UA also plans to replace the entire fleet of 757s with Airbus A321XLRs starting in 2024.

United isn’t assigning these aircraft to a particular route until about two days before departure, so keep an eye on the seat-map to see whether your flight will be operated by a retrofitted 757-200. Hopefully the updates will be installed quickly, as I can’t wait to see more of these refreshed planes flying around.

All photos by the author.

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