United Delays Premium Cabin Refurbishment Again

Uh oh. It looks like United has decided to delay its refurbishment of the premium cabins on the 777 once again. Now they won’t even start until February 2010, so the problem of dramatically different premium cabin experiences is bound to continue for quite some time.

The 767s are complete, and the 747s are almost there. They say 18 out of 24 aircraft are done with the full 747 fleet being finished by October this year. But those 777s, well, they’ll continue to limp along with the old product. Here’s how things will look when the 747s are done in a couple months.

United 777 Premium Cabin Delays

So what’s the excuse this time? Money. In an internal memo, they blame two things, but I’m not buying the first.

While our International Premium Travel Experience (IPTE) aircraft continue to double our customer satisfaction scores, and the modifications continue to progress well, the B777 program is more complex than the B767 and B747 programs, given the three different B777 sub-fleets. In addition,
we are facing a challenging year due to the global recession, changing market demand and increasing fuel prices.

Uh huh. This thing has been delayed so many times that I find it hard to believe that the complexity is still causing the problem here. Instead, I’ll put my bet on the little blurb that followed:

The decision to postpone the start of the work also allows us to better control our costs in 2009, helping us maintain a stronger cash flow through the historical trough period of the fourth quarter.

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! They say you have to spend money to make money, but how does that work when you don’t have money to spend? Sadly, the 777s make up a bit more than half the fleet, so the cost savings here are likely to turn into revenue pain as people look toward other airlines with better options.

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38 Comments on "United Delays Premium Cabin Refurbishment Again"

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David SF eastbay
Member

I’m surprised they didn’t say it’s because “it’s what our customers want”. Isn’t that what the airline tend to say for everything they do these days, oh maybe that’s just when they add a fee for something. So that must mean if you are on an aircraft with the new seats you’ll be charged a ‘new seat’ fee.

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist

On one trip in around 2000 I had three 747s between Hong Kong and Chicago, each with three different configurations and three generations of seats, from the old Barcalounger to the 1st “pod” which was new at the time. Par for the course for United.

Neil S
Guest

Well, at least in First on the 777, the width of the cabin makes it seem less dark and claustrophobic than on the 747.

Ken
Guest

Yea, and if United’s not even in existence in 2010….

kelty
Member

Usually I travel economy plus on United. However, when I have had the opportunity to fly United’ 747s in business class, the experience was very positive. I don’t really go for the pods and lying flat. My travel experiences started with Greyhound, and any form of reclining seat puts me to sleep.

David
Guest

I’m curious as to why if United has such a bad name for chaotic management compared to other airlines, that United stays in business.

Economics usually says that if one company in a marketplace consistently produces an inferior product at a higher cost, then its profits decline and competitors begin to increase their market share. United still has a significant market share of flights to, from and within the USA.

Is there a quasi monopoly in effect ? Or is it simply that other major carriers in the USA are equally as bad but United-bashing is just more fashionable ?

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
David – Others will doubtlessly tell you the reasons are complicated but to me it’s always been very simple why United stays in business. The largest and simplest reason is the amount of financial exposure United represents to investors. Better to prop it up albeit with ever tighter constraints on current management and hope for a better day than let the thing die altogether and gain little to nothing for the trouble. If United folded there would be a temporary disruption in real terms regarding internal and external jobs as well as the movement of consumer goods. My view, however,… Read more »
Siobhan
Guest

I’m flying AUS-NRT in October 2009 on a Z fare – we were initially booked on a 777, and I’m so relieved that they’ve changed our flight to a 747. Except constantly on edge that they’re going to change it back, I suppose. The old biz class seats look miserable in comparison to the new ones, although it will be my first experience with them so I can’t really say.

Bobber
Guest

Not that I’ll be flying C class again anytime soon, but having taken a LHR-IAD round trip in the 777 C class last month (both 30k upgrades before the co-pay comes in), the change can’t come soon enough. The old configuration barely feels different to economy plus anymore (I know it’s all relative, but the new C class in the 767’s is a whole lot better). Perhaps it’s time United considered ditching F class altogether and trying a combined premium product. That I still wouldn’t be flying in. Very often. If at all.

Nick Barnard
Member

Hmm.. when you have to borrow money at 18%, perhaps upgrading the seats isn’t the best idea? Sadly this is a poor tradeoff, but understandable.

Dan Hill
Guest
There are still paying business class passengers out there – like me. I fly out of a regional airport that is only served by United for three out of four seasons so I have every reason to use United. But I avoid United them on international flights. Of the 40 or so international flights I’ve done in the past year, I used United once which reminded me how inferior their international business product is even compared to their US competitors, let alone the European and Asian carriers. MY most common route is DEN-LHR where they use the 777 which it… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
Siobhan – The old C class seat was cutting edge when it came out 15 years ago. Other than not lying flat which is all the rage today, it’s a perfectly comfortable seat. When it first hit the market the complaint was that it had too many buttons, bells and whistles in an attempt to let each passenger customize exactly what type of seat they wanted. IF you get the seat on a Z fare, just remember to turn on the rotating lumbar massage and you’ll be fine. As for lie flat seats, only if they are 180 degrees. I’ve… Read more »
Million Miler
Guest
Perhaps another, closely related issue, is that not many people actually pay for first class on US carriers. The domestic airlines have done a pretty good job of training their customers to expect free (or low cost) upgrades. Consequently folks buy Business Class, and take their chances on getting upgraded to First at the gate, others purchase Economy Plus and expect to snag a Business Class seat vacated by someone upgrading to First, all the way down the food chain to the poor guy in the center seat of the last row looking to switch to a window seat before… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist

Hear hear, Million Miler! Soooo true.

CF – God forbid CO takes over only to keep the United name alive. CO has an arguably better product and brand reputation including marketing presence through Air Mike at Guam. If CO takes over, let it be CO as the surviving carrier in name, assets and corporate culture. Please!

Nick Barnard
Member

CF and Optomist. If I were Continental be worried about losing my culture to United’s even if I was the controlling partner in a merger. United’s culture is really horendous IMHO.

I’d almost bet that being an alliance partner with United is more about having their hand forced than them actually desiring it.

If I were Continental and it was a necessity to take over United I’d plan on running them as a seperate brand and airline until they were cleaned up. Say two years or so. This preserves both carriers major assets: Continental’s brand and United’s assets.

Ken Bechtel
Guest

With the 777’s not being upgraded with flat beds in Business, how can they justify the start of co-pays of $250-500 for upgrading in mid-Jan. ’10? It doesn’t seem like they will be able to carry out that plan. This is all very disappointing. I guess we’ll just have to plan on taking Alliance partners on int’l. routes.

Nick Barnard
Member

CF – It seems like asset sales are no longer in vogue within the airline industry. Although I can see United going Ch11 then 363.

QRC
Guest

CF – I think you should rephrase. Customers aren’t “willing” to give United money, they are forced to with the overall far inferior legacy airline choices in the US. Solution (albeit politically unpalatable): allow foreign ownership of US airlines, and allow more foreign airlines to compete on domestic routes. Stick SQ or CX…or even BA…in the US and allow them to actually compete (more than the once daily QF JFK-LAX) on multiple routes where business travelers are at a premium (SFO, LAX, JFK) and see where passengers are “willing” to give their money then.

robert
Guest

Cranky, I don’t know if you’ve covered this but in the spirit of some of the comments, what do you think of the latest thinking that airlines should just get rid of first and concentrate on business class? I believe BA are not even bothering to create a first class cabin on newer aircraft they’ve ordered. Is first a relic of a previous age or does it still make $$$ for the airlines?

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
Robert – I see a mix of things that need to be cleared up as far as the death of First Class. As was written earlier, US carriers are famous for giving away premium products in the face of hot competition while Asian and European airlines have shown far more restraint. I don’t have the numbers to back up the conjecture but I’d say that Singapore Airlines gets real revenue from it’s F product, as does BA and QF between Europe and Australia. At the same time, C class seems to be turning in to the new F class, the… Read more »
SEAN
Guest

To me both US &UA need to be merged with another airline or be shut down. There’s just to much in the way of poor management with these airlines.

Million Miler
Guest
Sorry CF, just to be clear, I was referring to US carriers and their international routes. Are you suggesting that US carriers are flying with empty first class seats on international routes – as opposed to filing them with free or nearly free upgrades? Ken mentions co-pays of $250 to $500 to upgrade. What percentage of the published fare difference between Business and First does that represent on his trip? a third? a quarter? less? I also note that without the new seats Ken seems to be hinting that even at this reduced price level the current product might not… Read more »
J Aero
Guest
I think one thing that most do not realize is the complexity with the 777 that has not arose with the conversion of the 767 and 747. This has added to at least the first delay, and is that is now being propagated downward because of the current economics. To put in the new C and F, the entire IFE system had to be replaced. Naturally, that meant the seats had to take in this new system, including the Y seats. The initial Y seats United planned on having in the 777 did not pass the g-test or load test.… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Million Miler — I don’t know about United, but last month I took a transatlantic flight on Delta, and on the outbound I wasn’t allowed to even purchase an upgrade because my base fare was too low (BusinessElite was half empty). On the return, however, coach was oversold so they had to move some passengers up front and I was among the lucky ones :-) Are you suggesting that non-US carriers would leave passengers behind in such a case?

As for why people fly US carriers on international flights, for many it is the Fly America Act.

Ken Bechtel
Guest
I wanted to clarify my previous statement on United co-pays on econ. tickets, being upgraded to bus. class seats (which starts around mid Jan.). The co-pay I mentioned is in each direction, so for example, a $1850 econ. ticket to ASIA might require a $1000 co-pay + miles to upgrade. That’s a 54% incr. in that fare to upgrade from last year. Then, you have the hassle of checking out the equipm. to make sure the new flat bed is available on your particular routing you’re considering. If you’re buying a bus. class ticket for the comfort of the flat… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
I’ve always felt bad for people who really pay for a first class ticket and have to sit in the same seats as people who were upgraded from a lower class cabin/fare. They are paying for a product that the upgraders didn’t pay for. I’ve paid for first class and always felt like I was cheated, granted upgraders don’t know if they will be upgraded, but it’s great for them if they are. Even when I’ve flown in coach, when passing the full front cabin on the way to coach, you can always tell who was upgraded and who paided… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
David — I’ve been thinking about “I think eons ago the airlines thought it would be a good idea to upgrade full Y (or C on three cabin aircraft) thinking if people saw how nice it was they would start buying the higher priced cabin. ” I’d argue the airlines were really stupid about this, and probably contributing this was the older systems. But if airlines used the free upgrade as a tool to expose you to it instead of just upgrading based on how much you’d flown it’d be interesting.. Take a look at how Amazon uses their Prime… Read more »
Brad Ackerman
Guest
Ron: How much of UA’s customers are there because of the Fly America Act? I’m there because of the City Pair contracts, which is a similar (have to be a US airline to bid) issue but not the same issue. City Pair contracts are only available to people directly employed by the government, so the Fly America Act is the only entanglement for most USG-paid air travel. While the FAA certainly does the taxpayer no good, it’s not that difficult to work around. Pretty much any international itinerary can be flown on a foreign-flag carrier using a US carrier’s codeshare… Read more »
Simon
Guest

Have travelled on United a lot – and being from Britain we seem to have the pick of airlines to travel with, and whilst I would say they are deinitely not the best airline going, they are also definitely not the worst. It these trying times where even highly efficient and profitable outfits are losing their shirts, it is prudent ofr United to manage their cash flow and ensure the airframes are relaible and airworthy and the crews aren’t stretched to breaking point.

Charles
Guest

What are the chances that the business class seating upgrades will be complete in 777 by April of 2010?

Tim
Guest

Using miles on United (mostly an American flier). Just found out that my flight to Shanghai next week is on the 777. I was expecting the lie flat. Totally PO’d. Seems the longest routes are on the 777. Also unfair that for the same miles we in the 777’s get a vastly inferior experience. Asked about using more miles to upgrade to first-there are empty seats-but not allowed. Don’t understand why not. Nothing makes sense with these airlines. They’re SO INFLEXIBLE. The answser is always NO.

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