Topic of the Week: United Upgrades Its 767s But Eliminates First Class on Them


This came out of an internal communication at United earlier this week. The airline is going to redo its 767-300s and eliminate First Class. Is this a good move? Is United making a mistake here or is this the way to go?

Refurbished 767s will have new interiors, reliability upgrades
This August, we will begin the conversion of our 21-plane three-class Boeing 767-300 fleet to an all-new interior that matches our two-class 767s. The modifications include many behind-the-scenes but vitally important improvements that should extend the life of the fleet by years and improve reliability.

Overall reliability for the 767s has improved over the last 10 months. We began a reliability initiative focused on this fleet in August 2014 and cancels through June 30 are down 26 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.

The upcoming modifications should further improve our performance on two broad fronts.

First, we will take advantage of the lengthy modification period (up to three months per aircraft) to schedule and perform a number of safety and reliability improvements, some mandated by airworthiness directives and others identified by Reliability Engineering as having the greatest reliability return on investment. According to Tech Services VP John Wiitala, this was the most extensive review of its kind we’ve ever conducted on a subfleet.

Secondly, the new interiors – including seats, entertainment systems, bins, panels, galleys and crew-rest areas – will inherently be more reliable than the aging systems and fixtures on the existing fleet. Current interior components and systems account for the majority of our short delays on 767-300s, so putting in a new cabin nose to tail should drive down those delays considerably, John said.

We should complete the prototype aircraft before the end of this year and the entire 767 fleet by the end of 2017. The new interiors will feature 30 BusinessFirst lie-flat seats and 46 Economy Plus and 138 Economy seats, in the same 2-3-2 layout as the current configuration, for a total of 214 seats. We’ll also be adding Wi-Fi and upgrading the audio-video systems on these aircraft.

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17 comments on “Topic of the Week: United Upgrades Its 767s But Eliminates First Class on Them

  1. About time – the 767’s in United’s fleet are not the worst (not in comparison to the 747’s), but they are getting very tired (as are other operator’s 767’s as well e.g. BA – bleurgh). I can’t see that UA will lose much money but cutting First on the transatlantic routes – maybe a little on the flights down to Brazil?? It’s still a great plane.

  2. This feels like the continued devaluation of the United brand by the Continental folks. Airlines who fly int’l routes while only having two classes seem lower class than the carriers who have 3 or more classes. The F section on these planes was small, but I feel like it’s another one of the ways the former United is being killed off.

    1. I agree and I disagree. Yes, it’s the continued devaluation of United…trying to do more with less. On the other hand United’s first class product is well behind other Asian carriers…even EVA which has only a two class product. Nobody I know looks forward to flying United First.

      And then there is the trend going on in large parts of the industry to either reduce or eliminate First because Business has caught up and the gap isn’t what it used to be. This isn’t the case for all the airlines…particularly Asian carriers like Singapore, Korean, Cathay, etc. and the ME3. But it is the case for a lot of others.

      United faced a choice…invest a lot of money on First to try and make it competitive (and the chances were great that whatever investments UA did put in to First wouldn’t be enough to make it competitive with the best Asian carriers or the ME3) or cut it and open up more Business seating (or expand Economy+) which is likely to generate better returns. There are arguments to be made on both sides but as a passenger who does fly UA I’d rather see more investment in business which I have a much greater chance of flying.

    2. This is patently untrue. The only remaining Continental legacy senior execs are Jeff Smisek and Jim Compton. All other roles have been consolidated to sUA leaders. That is a ration of 1:5 sCO to sUA. To say that sCO is ruining united is a compliment as united ruined united well before continental came along: lowest satisfaction ratings before merger, fewest first class seats per plane,…

      1. Jofo, With the exception of 2 or 3 VP’s, every VP or SVP is from PM CO or a new hire. Only 2 or 3 VPs remain from PM United. Here is a partial list of former PM CO employees now in VP positions. Greg Heart, John Raniey, G Leaderman, Dave Hilfman, Chris Kenny, Irene Foxhall, Mike Bonds, Jonathan Ireland, Brett Hart, Sam Risoli. From PM UA – Tom O’Tool, Linda Cauffman, Kate Gebo Other – Doug McKeen. This information from the Wall Street Journal.
        “PM CO was a regional carrier that would not succeed as an independent airline.” A direct quote from Jeff Smisek.
        You just don’t get to make up the facts that fit your reality. I am interested in your thoughts and opinions, but you need to be factual in your comments.

  3. I have been flying the ORD LHR run on UA, and I can’t say that the planes are that bad; although it looks like there will be some opportunities to fly the 777 on the same run over the next few months for comparison. I was wondering why they would be substituting in 777’s for a week here and a week there; perhaps this is the reason?

    1. I’ve also done the ORD LHR round trips and find the seats easy to sleep in. Day flights are horrible as the entertainment and lack of wifi makes it a looooong flight. I would typically route via EWR on the 777 or Air Canada to have better entertainment for the day flights.

  4. BusinessFirst and Economy Plus are just the new names for first and business so it’s no big deal since hardly any one buys First class, it’s just a spot business passengers upgrade to. Since most companies may allow long haul travel in business, UA should see more money with people buying seats in the front cabin instead of just filling the space with upgrades.

  5. Just curious if anyone on here regularly flies in international F seats? Everyone I know that flies for business is only allowed to book Business Class for international trips. Corporate policy at major Fortune 500’s down to small independent companies. Granted, I’m sure there are some C-level executives that book F seats but in reality this is a small group of people and many are at a threshold where they fly in private aircraft. Guess I don’t see why an airline would want 3+ class configurations from a business standpoint. Ego, sure, but business reasons sounds like UA is making the right move.

  6. its all about how executives are compensated.

    U.S. executives are paid large salaries and bonuses. They have fairly meager benefit and non-wage perks. Even senior executives usually fly coach except on 6 hour plus flights, where the “perk” is biz class. U.S. companies tend to have agreements with US carriers, like United.

    Foreign executives tend to have smaller salaries and bonuses, in keeping with how those instruments are taxed. Instead, they tend to get better non-wage perks. One of these is 1st class travel. Foreign companies tend to have agreement with their own domestic carriers.

    So, United are acting rationally. Their customers don’t spend up to 1st, so why offer it? It’s not like their 1st class product was competitive anyway.

  7. Most Global First bookings are “upgrade class” (see above), “FF award class” (me once every 2-3 years) and “non-rev class”. Plus most of those 763s were intended to be retired but are reprieved thanks to the reduction in the cost of jet fuel, and are going to be deployed Newark to regional Europe, replacing most of the pmCO 757s which have never had F anyway. I can’t see much F demand on EWR-BCN/MAD/TXL/HAM or the next tranche they swap.

    United is strongly rumored (plans have been reported) to be going 1-2-1 in BusinessFirst anyway, starting with those ten 777-300ERs, the 787-10 and A350-1000. A decent 1-2-1 Business Class offering makes GlobalFirst redundant on most routes. Don’t forget Delta got out of international F back in 1998.

  8. Reliability on the b767s has been a major issue. I’ve flown them in the past lots of times in both business and econ+ and had extensive mechanical delays or cancelations. Currently i go out of my way to avoid them and had hoped United would have retired them but I hope they will give the engines and mechanical systems a thorough overhaul as well otherwise I’m still not flying them whether they look pretty on the inside or not. I have been in Global First a few times in 777s and 747s and it’s not much better than business except you aren’t squeezed in so much. b767s with 1-2-1 if true would be a big step forward though.

  9. Very smart, and inevitable. Any sCO person saw this coming. Two-cabin classes are smart, efficient, and if done correctly don’t detract from the (intolerably low) customer expectation. Look, if people want a truly “first class” luxury experience, fly an Asian or Middle Eastern carrier. There will be no loss of revenue whatsoever as a result of Global First – which has never IMO delivered anything spectacular – swapping for the sCO BusinessFirst product. There will, however, be noticeable cost savings. It’s a win-win.

  10. They will eliminate first class but will have business class. Sometimes there are only small differences between the two and sometimes not. The upgrades appear to be an improvement. I will have to wait and see how this works out before making judgements. This may turn out to be pretty good.

  11. If they are going to eliminate GlobalFirst on International routes then they had better do a BusinessFirst cabin in a 1-2-1 layout like most of the competition. I actually buy both United First & Business seats (as well as SWISS & Lufthansa). I miss the pmUA service in FIrst – which has been wiped put by CO dba United.
    Regardless…if they move to a 2 class (with E+) then their biz class product has to be further improved. Service on BusinessFirst can be very unreliable.

    Also…for what it’s worth – United Purser sounds so much nicer and more professional than “Your inflight services coordinator” !

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