New Snack Areas, Sleek Lighting, and Bigger Bins: A First Look at United’s Brand-New Planes
If you fly with United, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll get to experience the airline’s newly unveiled Airbus A321neo planes. Here’s what’s in store when you do.
A whiff of new plane smell may be part of your next United Airlines onboard welcome. That’s because the Chicago-based carrier is undergoing a massive fleet renewal strategy as part of its “United Next” plan with 800 new aircraft being added between 2023 and the end of 2032.
Last week, United pulled the wraps off of its first Airbus A321neo, a single-aisle, narrow-body plane with a swanky interior and, a first for United economy passengers, a self-service snack bar. In addition to the grab-and-go pantry, on the new Airbus planes, travelers will find a variety of fun new amenities, including wireless charging stations and nifty technology enhancements throughout the cabin.
At least 180 of these jets will be delivered in the coming years, and along with the Boeing 737MAX, will serve as the backbone of United’s domestic fleet. Initially, these planes will mainly fly out of United’s Chicago O’Hare hub heading to and from Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Phoenix.
I was onboard one of the first passenger flights, a 1,400-mile journey from Chicago to Phoenix. Here’s a full rundown of what future fliers can expect.
The onboard experience on United’s new A321neo planes
New grab-and-go snack station
United is the latest carrier to offer a grab-and-go snack station for economy fliers. An airline spokesperson said a “limited supply of water and snacks” will be available from the aft snack bar, with the current offering including That’s It Fruit Bars, Undercover Chocolate Quinoa Crisps, and a savory snack mix. The amenity is an attempt by United to “uplevel the customer experience for every customer, in every cabin,” according to the airline.
The bar won’t replace any onboard service element, but instead, it’ll be open to passengers on flights of 801 miles or more on a first-come, first-served basis following the cabin crew’s first snack and drink pass-through.
While an economy grab-and-go station is unique to United’s A321neo, it’s not the first time travelers have had access to a snack bar on a plane. In fact, since 2019, first-class passengers on United’s 50-seat regional jet, the Bombardier CRJ-550, could help themselves to a robust array of snacks and soft drinks near the front aircraft door.
Historically, with a pantry-like setup since 2014 for long- and medium-haul flights, JetBlue has been the self-service leader. In addition to a variety of drinks and juices, JetBlue’s current pantry snack selection includes Chifles Plantain Chips, Popchips, Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, and Stellar Vegan Butter Pretzel Braids. (It’s a richer selection than what United offers at the moment.)
Bigger overhead bins
When it comes to storing bags, larger overhead bins mean enough space for everyone’s carry-on. By stacking bags horizontally (instead of laying them flat), there’s room for 200 large roller bags on the new United planes. That means, theoretically, the need to gate check should be a thing of the past.
As for the rest of the experience, LED mood lighting (in varying shades of blue) and a mosaic-like ceiling pattern create a sleek, upgraded feel from the moment passengers board the aircraft. It’s what United is calling the “signature cabin,” one that will be unified across the entire fleet in the future.
Wireless tech and accessibility features throughout
Travelers can say goodbye to wired headphones; each 12-inch or 14-inch Panasonic seatback screen on the A321neo comes with Bluetooth connectivity. Those screens also include a dynamic secondary display in the lower-right corner showing information such as the amount of time left in flight.
Besides standard power outlets, a super-fast USB-C charging port is at each seat. And if that’s not enough to juice up devices, first-class passengers even get wireless charging pads built into the armrests.
Earlier this year, United became the first airline to add Braille to its aircraft. The A321neo has these markings on overhead compartments as well as inside and outside the lavatories.
While United has onboard snacks and perks aplenty, the total seat count—200 from nose to tail—is more than what Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have on their respective A321neos. United’s version includes 20 first-class recliners, 57 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats, and 123 economy seats. It might be a tighter squeeze than competitors but the airline makes up for it with splashy new features and technology enhancements galore.
From easier device charging to an onboard snack bar and a super-responsive seatback screen, United has created a more premium environment, which is a big part of the airline’s broader ambitions.