Last week I booked a Sunday night redeye from Los Angeles to Chicago on United and was pleasantly surprised to see that the flight would be operated by a 747-400. Like Kevin’s experience last week, the aircraft featured the old configuration with recliner-style business class seats and the small economy cabin in front of UA’s Economy Plus. Though I ended up canceling the trip, it is great to see 747’s flying domestically and gives me hope that recovery is around the corner for the airline industry.
And United is not the only airline dusting off 747s from the scrap heap. British Airways and Cathay Pacific have also recalled 747s into service this summer. In fact, BA is bringing back a second 747 this winter after recalling one in late spring for the JFK-LHR route. Lufthansa also plans to bring back a jumbo jet in the coming months.
Airlines must be careful, however, not to move too swiftly. International passenger traffic was up 12% in June, but it still has not rebounded to pre-recession levels. Infusing the market with a glut of new seats would not be advantageous to airlines struggling to make a profit.
I know that a few extra 747s during the busy summer travel months doesn’t necessarily translate to recovery, but I think it is at least an encouraging sign.