United designing seats that recline into beds on smaller jets, in search of a good night's sleep

Key Points
  • United would become first U.S. carrier to offer lie-flat seats on the Boeing 737.
  • It would be for first-class flyers on transcontinental routes.
  • United has focused heavily on passenger rest in its new products.
United Airlines Boeing 757-200 taking off at Los Angeles International Airport.
Laser1987 | Getty Images

United Airlines' latest challenge: Make a good night's sleep possible on smaller planes.

The carrier is developing seats that recline into flat beds for some of its recently ordered Boeing 737s, United President Scott Kirby told reporters at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver on Tuesday.

The company is betting travelers will pay more for the premium seating, which it expects to offer mainly on cross-country flights. United is testing the seat for its first-class cabin aboard some of the 100 Boeing 737 Max 10s, the largest version of the Max line, which United ordered last year. It expects to begin flying them in 2020 and use the planes to replace some of its old Boeing 757s.

United does offer lie-flat seats in the front of the cabin on the older, Boeing 757 planes, but the airline would be the first in the U.S. to put this type of seat on 737s. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and JetBlue offer lie-flat seats on transcontinental routes, the latter two on narrowbody Airbus jets.

Kirby said the airline could fly the lie-flat product to and from cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and New York.

"We think there is demand but it's almost exclusively trans con demand," said Kirby.

Since it unveiled its new international business class, called Polaris, in mid-2016, United has focused on the promise of sleep and rest for high-paying flyers.

United is testing a second version of its new lie-flat seat for domestic routes.Last year, Dubai-based Fly Dubai, unveiled lie-flat beds in business class for its 737 MAX 8 jets.

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