Is United planning to remove some business class seats from its longhaul fleet?
Yesterday I wrote about United’s healthy third quarter earnings and rosy outlook for the remainder of the year. I finally had a chance to read over the earnings call, where one comment particularly caught my attention.
United’s Executive Vice President Andrew Nocella offered the following thoughts when asked if United was turning people away from business class or had too many seats:
That’s a good question. And we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how many seats should be on our aircraft and how many seats should be in each and every cabin. United’s hubs are located in the best premium markets on the globe, they represent the majority of business traffic to and from the United States; it is something, I think, very unique to us. And so, we think we have appropriately sized our cabins to accommodate the business class needs or the premium needs across the globe.
So I think we’re pretty pleased with that, and we offer I think pretty large sized cabins to make sure whether you’re going to China or London Heathrow, we can do that. We continue to look at the number of premium class seats we have onboard all our aircraft given where our hubs are located. And I think, we actually will have more to say on this in the future as we make sure that we have the right number onboard every single aircraft we have.
Pay attention to the bolding above.
United offers 50 business class seats on its international 777-200s while American and Delta only offer 37. While United offers 48 business class seats on its 787-9 and 36 on its 787-8, American is the process of removing seats on some of its Dreamliners. AA’s 787-8s will drop from 28 to 20 seats in business class. Meanwhile, its 787-9s offer only 30 seats in business class.
That’s a huge difference. Gary Leff from View from the Wing rightly notes that not all markets may be able to support business class cabins as large as United.
I recently flew a retrofitted 777-200 with United’s new Comfort Plus (premium economy class) seating. These seats came at the expense of economy class, not business class.
> Pictures: Testing Out United’s New Premium Economy
I don’t like that Nocella leaves open the door for reducing the size of business class. I also rarely see a business class cabin depart with open seats. Even so, it would not surprise me if United creates more “HD” (high density) configurations like on the 777-200s they currently use for some transcon and Hawaiian traffic.
For now, the status quo remains. United has a far better ratio of business class to economy class seats on many aircraft. But that may change. United has left the door open. Full transcript of the conference call here.