United Airlines announced it will add 1,600 United Polaris Business and United First Class seats to almost 250 international and domestic aircraft. I’d call 25-50% increases in the size of premium cabins massive.
Last week I wrote about the increase in United Polaris business class on 21 767-300s from 3o to 46 seats, plus the addition of United Premium Plus premium economy seats. While that marks the cornerstone of United’s international premium cabin expansion, United is also expanding first class on all Airbus narrowbody aircraft and introducing a whole new aircraft type.
Folks, United is actually being innovative here. They are leading, not following. That’s the main takeaway, which I’ll discuss more below. But here’s what to expect across the domestic fleet.
Airbus A319 First Class grows from 8 to 12
All Airbus A319 aircraft will receive an extra row of first class seats, growing from 8 to 12 seats. Six EconomyPlus seats (one row) will be removed to make way for the extra row of first class.
Airbus A320 First Class grows from 12 to 16
All Airbus A320 aircraft will receive an extra row of first class seats, growing from 12 to 16 seats. The newly-configured cabin will be staggered. United will remove three EconomyPlus seats and one United economy seat (not sure how that works…) for a net change of zero seats.
United will introduce a brand new aircraft from Bombardier called the CRJ-550. It will roughly be the size of the CRJ-700 but be quite premium heavy with 10 first class seats, 20 United Economy Plus seats, and 20 seats in regular economy class. It will have wi-fi, more room for carry-on baggage, and a “snack bar” for first class passengers.
A Bold New Strategy
Let’s give United some credit for actually embarking upon a bold strategy of its own rather rather than following others. Recognizing that there is more margin and a growing demand for premium seats, United is providing an alternative to Delta and American. It may not work…especially during the next downturn…but I predict it will work well.
I pummeled United yesterday for the erosion of its premium cabin soft product. Growing first class and Polaris cabins only magnifies the issue. Hopefully United will soon see that it CAN be a premium airline competing with the best in the world. It is on its way. But it cannot cut its way to that goal. The premium cabin cutbacks must also be reversed.
We’ll start to see retrofitted aircraft as soon as this month. I applaud United’s move and see it not only as bold for the sake of being bold, but a shrewd business move that will pay dividends.
What do you think about the expansion of United’s premium cabins across many aircraft?