United Releases a Few Good Product Enhancements Amidst a Lot of Old News

This week is the GBTA Convention (formerly known as NBTA until it decided to go “global,” or something like that), and the new United is taking a page from the old Continental playbook by making a bunch of announcements. See, GBTA is the big event for corporate/business travel, and Continental has long treated it as important. It rolled out its flat beds in business class there a few years ago, and now it’s focusing on other product enhancements. What’s the verdict?

United Helps Coach Passengers

There are a few good nuggets of info in here, but there’s also a lot of repeat announcements. One you get through the noise, the announcements are mostly great news. The team is finally fixing up the United fleet while bringing over some old favorites to Continental. Let’s go over them. (I’ve saved my favorite for last.)

  • New: United Will Convert Interiors on 14 Previously-Domestic 767s
    United has long had a sizable fleet of 767-300s that it split in two. Some were outfitted with three-cabins and flew internationally while the others were domestic birds with a domestic-style first class and a sea of coach. Now the 14 previously domestic birds will get a hybrid international configuration with only two classes (actually 30 in biz, 49 in Economy Plus, and 135 in coach), but they’ll get the well-liked Continental flat bed up front. New seats will be put in, but it’s unclear if the old, tiny overhead bins will be replaced. I like this – gives some flexibility to the United fleet, but it will be interesting to see what airplanes replace that capacity on the domestic runs.
  • Old: United Will Put Flat Beds on Continental 767-400 Fleet
    This was supposed to be done by next summer anyway, and now it’s apparently being reaffirmed. The twelve 767-400s in the Continental fleet will get flat beds. No surprise there. Here’s the chart of what the fleet does and will look like. United says it will have 185 birds with flat beds, but I count 193. Are there some retirements that I’m missing?

    Aircraft Flat Beds Current Flat Beds Planned Pct Complete

    CO 757-200 41 41 100%

    CO 767-200 0 0 100%

    CO 767-400 0 12 0%

    CO 777-200 22 22 100%

    UA 757-200 p.s. 0 13 0%

    UA 767-300 21 35 60%

    UA 777-200 17 46 37%

    UA 747-400 24 24 100%
  • Old: United 777s Will Keep Getting Flat Beds
    United was painfully slow at putting flat beds on its 777s, and now it’s only at 17 of the 46 in the international fleet. Sounds like the process is starting up again, and I’ve confirmed that these airplanes will all get the current United flat bed, not the Continental one.
  • Old: Continental Fleet Will Get Economy Plus
    This is old news, but I guess it gives a little more color on the timing. Economy Plus will start being installed on Continental airplanes this fall with 38 done by year-end and 100 by the end of March next year. Economy Plus seats will come from current coach seating while premium cabins will remain unchanged in size. It’s not just mainline but also any aircraft with more than 50 seats, per the United standard. That means the Q400 props will get Economy Plus and First Class. We had a Twitter discussion on this awhile ago trying to remember the last prop that had First Class. It’s been awhile.
  • New: United Will Expand Overhead Bins and “Refresh” Interiors on the Airbus Fleet
    Try boarding a United A319 and you’ll probably run out of bin space before general boarding even begins. So, the new United is nearly doubling the size of the bins to make them more functional. This will help the onboard experience, probably to the dismay of those who thought that problem was bad enough that it would convince United not to keep charging bag fees. Plus, the new United will “refresh” the interiors to give them a better appearance. This is long overdue on much of that fleet.
  • New: Streaming Movies on 747-400s
    It wasn’t long ago that CEO Jeff Smisek said the product on the 747s wasn’t acceptable. To fix it, he’s committing to put a wireless streaming offering on the airplane. It’s like what American is doing on its 767-200s today with Gogo. You can log on and pay to watch movies or TV shows, etc on your own device. That’s great, but there’s one problem. This wasn’t accompanied by an announcement about putting power outlets in coach. Considering the long haul flights that the 747s operate, without power, this is useless. Let’s hope that announcement comes soon.
  • Old: United Will Put Wifi on the Legacy Continental Fleet
    Those airplanes that have LiveTV on them (old Continental domestic planes) will also get wifi eventually. The timeline says next year, but I’ll believe it when I see it. This is old news.
  • Old and New: United Will Redo p.s. Airplanes
    Jeff said before that United’s p.s. fleet that flies between LA/SF and JFK will get flat beds. This repeats that claim, but there’s more. p.s. will have 26 of the current Continental flat beds installed along with 70 Economy Plus seats, 44 in coach, power in every row, on demand audio/video and wifi. That means it won’t be the same configuration that Continental has on its 757s today. Continental today has only 16 beds on its 757s, so this will continue to be a separate fleet.
  • New: Channel 9 Will Be Offered on Continental Aircraft
    I saved my favorite piece of news for last. Channel 9 will not only be kept on the United fleet, as previously stated, but it will be expanded to the Continental fleet. This is great news for those of us who like to listen to the conversation between the cockpit and air traffic control.
  • That’s it for now. As you can see, it was an announcement full of a lot of things we’ve heard before, but there are some encouraging nuggets of awesomeness (like Channel 9) in there as well. In short, Continental is fixing up the neglected United fleet while bringing over some old favorites to the Continental fleet. These are all great things, and the direction of the announcements is quite promising. It’s good to see some real investment in the passenger experience for everyone instead of just the premium travelers as had been United’s sole focus before the merger.


42 Responses to United Releases a Few Good Product Enhancements Amidst a Lot of Old News

  1. CP says:

    Thanks, Cranky! It’s really interesting that on the CO fleet receiving E+ the premium cabins will not change in size. This has me wondering if the premium cabins on the UA A319s & A320s will increase in size to match the CO 737s. If not, there’s a potential customer frustration in premium cabins of varying size (and thus pretty vastly varying upgrade availability) on similar-capacity aircraft. All in all, though, these are positive changes for UA customers.

  2. Andrew says:

    It’s interesting that they are proceeding with refitting UA’s 777’s with the 3-cabin United configuration…I hadn’t really expected them to grow international First beyond the planes they currently had configured that way now. I wonder if this means that they’ve made a final determination as to what routes will have international First class?

    • CF says:

      Well, this really only commits to another dozen or so, so they could make changes as re-fits continue down the line. I’m sure the routes haven’t been fully chosen and will change over time. There’s a lot of things that can shift as they learn how the networks fit together.

  3. Sanjeev M says:

    OMG OMG OMG Channel 9!!! The rest of the news is great too, but Channel 9 is something special. Growing up outside Washington Dulles, I know as a kid the United brand name had a superior perception in my mind. My dad always believed that United had the best pilots. Rhapsody, awesome flight attendants, and Channel 9 made it the best. I think this is the one case where the cost of installing Channel 9 on the CO fleet should be ignored by the bean counters. Way to go!

    I’m still hoping for a reemergence of the tulip sometime soon.

    Did United give a timeline for the refresh on the A319 bins?

  4. Ray says:

    Just a minor note, last night in the FlyerTalk thread on it (Page 9)UA_Insider clarified they plan to add power outlets to the 747.

    “Our goal is to also install in-seat power outlets as well. We’re still finalizing the details there, but we recognize the need average length of this aircraft’s missions.”

    • Axelsarkis says:

      Great… because most computers will likely not last more than what, 4 hours? While seat-back IFE will last the whole flight. You can’t replace it with the computer without power plugs.

      • TS says:

        But tablets last 10-12 hours — the battery-life argument against reliance on pax devices for IFE is losing its effectiveness, IMO. I’d still like to see a lot more in-seat power, though.

    • CF says:

      I’ll believe it when I see it. Having a goal to install power is worth just about nothing. Until I see concrete plans, it’s a huge question mark in my eyes.

  5. Jason H says:

    I’d really be interested to see how a F/E+/E Q400 will look. I also wonder how much that might reduce the efficiency of the aircraft. Considering they don’t fly them on the routes that Horizon does perhaps it’s worth it.

    I’m with you Cranky on the power and I’m glad to see that UA_Insider addressed the concern. It always amazes me that airlines neglect that amenity in this day of electronic toys.

    I am wondering if the streaming movies is a stopgap or a permanent solution. I know I’m likely in the minority, but when I am on personal travel I don’t take a laptop, netbook, or tablet and often not even a smartphone. So when I read about AA and UA using streaming movies for IFE I wonder if I’ll be out of luck on those flights. Do they plan to rent devices on board? Having to hold a device or have the tray table down to watch something doesn’t seem optimal either. I know this is more of the realm of Mary over at Runway Girl, but just putting it out there.

    • TS says:

      I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that if you walk on board without your own gadget, they’ll loan/rent you a quasi-off-the-shelf tablet device, most likely Android-based, and you’ll be able to hang it from the seat in front of you somehow. I’m curious to see exactly what that scenario looks like at the APEX show next month. See also the recent news about AA buying 6,000 Samsung Galaxy tablets for 1st class, and Gogo’s new streaming video service on AA 767s.

    • CF says:

      Too early to know if they’ll rent tablets, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    • Aviation Week reported yesterday that the Q400’s will get Economy +, no mention of First Class. If true, disappointing (at least to us airline geeks), but probably makes sense. E+ is just a rearangment of existing seats. First Class would tend to imply a new seat type, plus extra duties for cabin crews that are already hard pressed for time on many flights. Not likely to generate any extra revenue either.

  6. I know this is a bit anal, but I think calling an airplane a “bird” is silly. I see it all of the time, but really!

    Birds bring down airplanes. They aren’t airplanes. Airplanes are airplanes. Birds are birds.

    You eat birds (chicken, turkey, duck, goose, pheasant, etc.). You don’t eat an airplane dinner with mashed potatoes, dressing and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, do you?

    There. I got it off my chest. I know it’s just a euphemism, but …

    • Jason H says:

      It does harken back to the beginning to the age of flight. Much like naming of planes and giving them a female gender. I actually like it. It gives a mystic and a tacit link to the age of schooner ships and luxury.

    • I hope I’m not coming off as being critical. It’s just a little beef (talk about mixing metaphors!). I probably should have included a “LOL” or something like that.

      Many early transportation devices were named, not numbered. One of the earliest steam engines was the Dewitt Clinton. The “Mercedes” Benz was named after a girl. In fact, the best passenger trains were named, not numbered. It was a different era, and many transportation fans are also into history.

      The idea of looking at macines as living organisms isn’t limited to airline fans. Many rail fans look upon steam engines as more “alive” than diesels. Again, This isn’t a big deal. To me, it just seems a bit odd to personify a machine. But to each his / her own.

      • Jason H says:

        I didn’t see it as critical. It was an interesting point. Though we have a long history of anthropomorphizing objects. A contrary view can be a welcome thing. Goodness knows I would have loved to see more reasoned contrarian views when I was teaching Intro to Public Speaking at a major Southern university.

    • JayB says:

      Forgive us, we all like to use words we think add a little something to speech, but we quickly find out others don’t agree.

      I come from a era when we often referred to the DC-3 as a “Gooney Bird,” or is my memory failing me. My boss used to like to say he’s “…taking the Big Iron Bird ‘cross the Pond.” OK, whatever!

      On another point, where we all have differering opinions about things, take Channel 9. I, like Cranky, just love it. My opinion of the pilot crew is largely defined by whether or not they turn it on. Whereas many others, I’m sure, think the availablility of it, and any discussion about its availability, is such a waste of time. Again, whatever!

    • I know my comment was a bit off the topic. Interesting responses though. Thanks.

      BUT … on the topic at hand, it’s always nice to see an airline invest in enhancing the on-board experience. Cranky wrote a piece (posted here over the weekend) about US Airways possibly expanding its Wifi offerings. Some form of entertainment/connectivity, etc. not only helps pass the time (the scenery at thirty-thousand feet plus is often lacking (especially when there’s cloud cover or you’re flying over the ocean) but can also be useful for business people who need to stay in touch while in transit. But I do agree with another poster, that much of the in-flight entertainment and connectivity improvements are kind of useless without at-seat power.

  7. Look for the upgraded 2-cabin UA-767-322ERs to replace the CO 2-cabin 762s. The first 762 has reportedly been retired by CO, with the rest also to be retired. The 762s are old, but (more importantly) are too expensive to operate for the number of passengers they carry.

    • David M says:

      Continental’s 762s aren’t that old. They were all delivered in 2000 and 2001. That said, it does look like one has left the fleet; N68155 is now with Omni.

    • CF says:

      As David M says, they’re all quite new so that’s not the issue. The 767-200 serves some cities well, but I imagine it’s not going to survive in the long term. I just don’t think we’ll see them disappear quickly unless there’s a new shock that requires a swift reduction in capacity.

  8. Axelsarkis says:

    Ch. 9… That’s what I’m happy about! My favorite IFE…

    Y+ is good too; I assume it will be the same that we have seen on UA.

  9. Steve says:

    Great news regarding channel 9. The demand is there and it differentiates/enhances their product for many of us. Unfortunately, it seems more and more that captains are electing not to turn on channel 9 (even when specifically requested.)

  10. Lee says:

    I really enjoy Channel 9 when I fly United. As popular as it is for United why hasn’t American considered doing the same?

    • CF says:

      I imagine that most airlines look at it as an unnecessary frill that’s not worth offering. That’s why it’s nice to see the new United willing to make it happen.

  11. Scott says:

    For those who question whether or not CO’s philosophies will prevail in this merger… here’s a trip down memory lane: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/25/business/continental-is-suing-united-over-carry-on-bag-limits.html

  12. Sounds like some people are getting the ‘bird’ around here today……lol

  13. Don says:

    Well if CO is getting LiveTV specifically then they will get wifi next year a la B6. Because B6 has something going on next year with a satellite (being installed from LiveTV; which I thought they own) beinglaunched tested and installed on their planes.

    But goof for CO or UA or whatever they call themselves nowadays. Upgrades for customers are great. Even in this merger era, which usually doen’t spell upgrades. But they are so good for them for looking out for the customers. Wish other airlines would follow suit. I think DL may be following suit. Only time will tell.

    • Hunter says:

      CO has had DirecTV on it’s 737 fleet for some time; it’s wifi that will be added.

      • Don says:

        Understand that CO has DirectTV on it’s 737’s. I just think that people questioning the wifi need to read between the lines. Anytime I fly Frontier or CO and see a TV screen some of that money I pay goes to JetBlue because they own the company that install and maintaines that entire system. So when JetBlue’s company (LiveTV) gets wifi for them other carriers (CO and Frontier) will also get it as well. It’s just a matter of some time next year.

    • CF says:

      That’s not necessarily true. Wifi is a separate cost above and beyond the core LiveTV product. Just because an airline has LiveTV doesn’t mean it will go with wifi from that provider. That being said, United has already said that the Continental fleet with LiveTV will get wifi from them as well. The question mark is around the old United fleet which has neither.

  14. robertol says:

    No mention yet of the fact that the PS birds are losing premium (F/C) seats? No guys are losing your curmudgeonous edge

    • CF says:

      That doesn’t bother me at all. There’s no reason to have a bunch of extra premium seats available for upgrades if it prevents people from buying coach seats. This seems like a smart move.

      • robertol says:

        I don’t disagree that this looks to be a smart business move at first blush, but to be fair, add’l coach seats could have been added without gutting F/C (e.g., same total number of premium seats, just all C; turn some E+ seats into E) My beef is this: if there are less premium seats, then what is the value of CR1s to 1Ks?

        The value of CR1s is approaching zero because of this, UDU, and F/C seats being held back on all routes (instead of CR1s going through)…what are the add’l benefits of 1K (especially now that anyone with status can book an exit row)?

        I know I am a very small sample size, but this is another erosion in 1K value. One that really mattered to me. (Maybe a future post topic… the erosion of 1K status?)

  15. robertol says:

    Should read “You guys…”

  16. Ed Kelty says:

    I don’t get the attention to “flat-bed seats.” In 1946, we crossed the country by Greyhound (the old car wouldn’t go that far). That’s when I learned the comfort of reclining seats, and have bought one for home use. Now in a plane, I simply recline and go to sleep on an overnight trip in the reclining position. Trying to use a flat seat on a plane seems to me like trying to fit into a Sleeperette on Amtrak.

  17. Trent880 says:

    I believe there are 16 764s

    • CF says:

      Yes there are. There were 12 in the Continental fleet and 4 with Continental Micronesia. Before, those Micronesia aircraft were scheduled to not get the re-fit and nothing seems to have changed even though Micronesia will be folded into the main operation. They keep referring to 12 airplanes getting the refit.

  18. Jason says:

    Any idea on what the BusinessFirst seat layout will looklike for the 764? Are they going to try and stagger a 2-2-2 versus the existing 2-1-2?

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