Fozz already nicely summarized the $550MN enhancements coming to United Airlines’ onboard product, but here’s a closer look from Scott O’Leary, Managing Director of Customer Solutions at United with my commentary below:
Improved long-haul comfort with more flat-bed seats. In September, we’ll begin installing all-new flat-bed seats in the premium cabins on 26 Boeing 767s – 12 Continental 767-400 aircraft and 14 United 767-300 aircraft (the ones currently in a domestic configuration). These aircraft will also have audio-video on demand and in-seat power from nose to tail. As for our three-cabin 777s, these retrofits are continuing with 17 of 46 aircraft complete and another dozen added to that by year-end. All of these aircraft will have advanced in-flight entertainment in First and Business and on-demand entertainment in Economy. To date, we have more flat-bed seats than any other U.S. airline, with 124 aircraft reconfigured to date and 185 once the 767 and 777 fleets are completed.
This is big news–United is actually going to refurbish the high-density 767-300s that you most often see running hub-hub or on Hawaiian routes. While this will mean less upgrade space (an upgrade to Hawaii is so easy to score on most routes that I wouldn’t even bother applying a regional upgrade right now), it will mean a more premium product throughout the aircraft and make these particular aircraft much more suitable for serving shorter international routes.
It should also be noted that it sounds as if the 777s will continue to be outfitted with a first class cabin. There remains questions surrounding the long-term viability of three-cabin first class, but for now on destinations including Dubai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London, a demand remains for the much pricier front cabin seat.
More Economy Plus, and soon. This fall we’ll also begin installing Economy Plus seating on our Continental mainline aircraft. We aim to have it on 38 Continental aircraft by year end (including some of the 767-400s mentioned above) and plus another 100 by next spring. Once we’re done, we will have Economy Plus on over 850 aircraft – more than any other airline. Worth noting: when installing Economy Plus on the Continental aircraft, we’ll be taking Economy Class seats out and leaving First and Business Class cabins intact.
The last sentence is key and admittedly took me by surprise. I thought for sure UA would add in Economy Plus at the expense of first class, but on the contrary, first class will remain unchanged and rows will be removed from economy class!
First Class and Economy Plus is coming to all 29 of our United Express Q400s. Enjoy!
One question: why? Not that I am complaining. When I get back to Philadelphia this winter (assuming that I stick with United next year), Continental runs Q400s between Philadelphia and Newark. I don’t much care for the kid pilots or the flight hostesses using a megaphone to make announcements, but first class and Economy Plus is a great thing. Now what about the EMB-120s, CRJ-200s, and ERJ-145s in the United Express fleet?
Channel 9? Roger that. Our Channel 9 air traffic control audio channel will be added to all Continental aircraft equipped with in-flight entertainment (said another way: everything but the 737-500s). The first aircraft to get it will be our renovated Continental 767-400s, which will begin re-entering the fleet this fall.
Good news, but I hope UA has okayed this with the Continental pilots before making this announcement.
Bigger bins coming to over 150 aircraft. Beginning in March 2012, we’ll nearly double the size of the overhead bins on our 152 Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft. The larger bins will accommodate a standard 22-inch rolling bag with wheels facing out resulting in increased space of 66 percent. At the same time, we’ll also refresh the interiors of this fleet.
Unless UA is hatching a plan to start charging for carry-on bags (a-la Spirit Airlines), I don’t see why this was necessary, but more overhead space is good. I do hope United will address the much more pressing need of newer and larger overhead bins on their domestic 767-300s when they retrofit them with the new lie-flat business class seats.
Streaming in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi are in the works. We’re currently selecting a vendor to provide streaming video in-flight entertainment option on our 747-400 aircraft, enabling customers to access video options via their Wi-Fi-enabled handheld devices, tablets and laptop computers. This would be in addition to the audio-video on-demand currently offered in First and Business Class. We’re also continuing with our plan to install Wi-Fi on our aircraft. Last March, Continental Airlines signed a letter of intent with LiveTV to install advanced broadband Wi-Fi using Ka-band satellite technology on more than 200 737 and 757 aircraft equipped with DIRECTV. Stay tuned on this front, there’s more to come.
It is about time the 747-400 received a serious equipment upgrade behind the curtain. United was far too behind the times with no power source and main screen video rather than personal IFE at each seat–especially when Qantas, V-Australia, and Delta, UA’s three competitors on the Los Angeles to Sydney route, offer AVOD at each seat.
I am disappointed that there was not a more concrete announcement about Wi-Fi. UA is at a huge competitive disadvantage by not offering this service onboard most of their domestic flight like Delta, American, US Airways, and Alaska already do. United needs to quickly step up the pace and catch up to their peers.
Major facelift for p.s. We’ll be doing a complete nose-to-tail renovation of our popular p.s. fleet, which serve the New York Kennedy to San Francisco and Los Angeles markets. When completed in 2013, these aircraft will be in a two-cabin configuration with 26 flat-bed Business Class seats and 114 in Economy. These aircraft will also offer Economy Plus, power ports at every row, on-demand audio and video and Wi-Fi service.
AVOD coming to p.s. is a positive step, but the loss of three-cabin service and of 12 premium cabin seats (plus the corresponding addition in the economy class) will make upgrades much harder on this route. There will also be less, it seems, to distinguish this route from others. I still would love to see UA outdo Delta, American, and Virgin America by offering tasty free meals to passengers in every cabin on this supposedly-exclusive route.
Overall, the changes are great. Now we just have to wait patiently and see if United destroys Mileage Plus as we know it today…