Just what is a “Scott Kirby Retrofit”? Is that configuring a 767-300 with a staggering number of business class seats or squeezing more passengers onto a 787-8?
My friend Gary from View from the Wing wrote a story yesterday entitled, “Leaked Seat Maps Show United’s 787s Are Getting A Scott Kirby Retrofit.”
Working off seat maps which reveal how United will potentially reconfigure its 787-8 and 787-9 aircraft, we see a number of concerning trends.
— LAflyer (@LAflyr) December 12, 2019
On the 787-8:
- Polaris (business class) will drop from 36 to 28 seats
- 21 Premium Plus (premium economy) will be added
- Economy Plus (extra legroom economy) will drop from 70 t0 36
- United Economy will grow from 113 to 158 seats with a potential decrease in legroom
In total, the 787-8 will carry 243 passengers versus 219 presently.
On the 787-9:
- Polaris maintained at 48 seats
- 21 Premium Plus seats will be added
- Economy Plus drops from 88 seats to 42 seats
- Economy grows from 116 to 146
In total, the 787-9 will carry 257 passengers versus 252 presently.
That’s bad news for economy class flyers and for MileagePlus elites who fly economy class and previously enjoyed easier access to Economy Plus.
But contrast these retrofits to a subfleet of 767-300s, in which United has dramatically enlarged business class and added premium economy to an extent unparalleled by any of its domestic competition.
These 767-300ER feature:
- 46 United Polaris seats
- 22 United Premium Plus seats
- 99 United Economy Seats
That represents a huge growth in premium seats that came directly at the expense of economy class. One common trend we see is that Economy Plus is being sacrificed…”Kirbyed” if you will. But let’s not label Kirby as destroyer of premium cabins.
A Bifurcated United Fleet
What do we make of United’s fleet strategy? It seems very simple to me: different aircraft for different markets.
High-density 777s or soon-to-be-higher-density 787-8s are perfect for leisure and secondary markets that cannot sustain high premium demand or business travel. Think Tahiti or Hawaii. Think seasonal summer service to select destinations in Europe.
Please note, I’m not defending these changes at all. In fact, if the seat maps above are accurate, I think it is a shame that United is choosing to make its longhaul economy class product even less comfortable.
But let’s not blame every cut on Kirby if we are also not going to note that he has added business class to the 767-300 and maintained it on the 777-200 and 777-300, which make up a sizeable chunk of the UA longhaul fleet.
Time will tell if this is a wise course of action, but it is a complex strategy, not a mindless desire to shaft passengers.
As the UA fleet becomes more nimble and United’s flight planning team is able to make adjustments on a short-term basis to schedules based upon demand, the bifurcated premium-heavy and leisure-heavy fleet will be instrumental in responding to unique market conditions.
No one should celebrate more seats being squeezed into economy class. I also agree that these changes have Kirby’s name written all over it. But let’s not forget the balance: we’ve seen more domestic and international premium seats plus Polaris Lounges under Kirby. It’s not all bad news.
> Read More: United Massively Increases Premium Cabins Across Fleet
> Reed More: Scott Kirby, New United CEO, Has Earned My Respect