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Quick Change

Cabin upgrades are a well-choreographed race against the clock

MOST OF UNITED’S 700 “mainline” aircraft—those not flying under the United Express banner—take to the skies every day. Given the busy schedules that these aircraft fly, some cabin upgrades are well-choreographed races against the clock.

Adding Economy Plus seating on a Boeing 737-800 requires a full day out of service and some 75 worker-hours. United operations and schedule planners route the aircraft through Houston, Los Angeles or Orlando, where technicians begin their work by disconnecting emergency path lighting, in-seat power, entertainment and other systems that require wiring and cabling; then they remove one row of United Economy seats.

The remaining rows forward of the emergency exits are spaced apart to offer, typically, an additional 5 inches of “pitch” per row and 2 more inches of recline per seat, and the wiring and cabling systems are restored. Next, the teams remove one overhead panel of reading lights, air vents and call buttons, and reposition the others to match the seat rows.

Then the technicians reposition the seat row markers and add Economy Plus and in-seat power placards or stickers to the rows. Finally, after a check of all systems, the plane is ready to get back in the air.

Not bad for a day’s work.


With Captain Mike Bowers

Q: Can commercial pilots regularly fly more than one type of airplane?

A: For consistency’s sake, airline pilots normally fly just one type of aircraft. There are some exceptions, such as the narrowbody Boeing 757 and the widebody 767, which were designed to be so alike that pilots could easily transition from one cockpit to the other. Some aircraft types, like the Boeing 737 family, have several series that pilots may fly concurrently: A United pilot who is qualified to fly Boeing 737s can fly the 737-500, 737-700, 737-800 and 737-900. The same is true with the Airbus A320 family, which includes the A319. The primary differences between those series are the length of the aircraft and the number of passengers they can hold; the cockpits are very similar.

Do you have a question for Captain Bowers? Write him at askthepilot@united.com.

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