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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.

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