United Media Day: Endless Ideas and Abundant Energy

The fact that United had a media day at all should tell you something. In the more than 13 years I’ve been writing about the industry, I don’t recall United ever having one. That’s probably because the airline didn’t have much to show off, but even if it did, the penny-pinching company likely wouldn’t have been willing to pay for it. But this is not your father’s (or your Uncle Tilton’s) airline. Things have changed markedly since CEO Oscar Munoz took the reins and brought in Scott Kirby as President. The airline flew in people from more than 100 media outlets from around the world to talk about its plans. For the first time in ages, it had quite a story to tell.

[Disclosure: United paid for my flights and hotel]

When we were brought into an unmarked warehouse in an industrial neighborhood area southwest of the loop, I began to wonder just what the airline was thinking. It turns out this warehouse was the perfect venue. Inside is where United has been running its “Backstage” program which brings every flight attendant in from around the world to dole out the company Kool-Aid. That may sound like a negative comment, but in this case, it’s not. In the past, United had no Kool-Aid to give. Now that it does, it needs to make sure all employees get a sip. (The program has been so well-received that customer service agents will participate next year.)

When we all arrived on Thursday, our only event was a three hour, off-the-record cocktail party in a big showcase area. Ringing the room were stations showing all the things United has been rolling out. They had live demonstrations of onboard tech including flight attendant tablets, pilot electronic flight bags, and customer tools. There were Polaris seats to try as well as new lounge furniture. And of course, food and drink both from the airplane and from the lounge were passed around.

While this alone made it worthwhile, it was nothing compared to the people who were there to talk to us. Those who led individual projects were showing off their work while execs mingled. I spent time with Oscar, Scott, Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella, SVP Sales Jake Cefolia, United’s President of California, Janet Lamkin, and more. United had also invited front-line employees, including many with strong social media presences, to come and participate. This was no stuffy, scripted event, and there were no guards up. It just felt like an airline full of people that were finally, mercifully working together to do good things. And when you do good things, you want to talk about it. As someone who worked for a bankrupt United 15 years ago, I can only say that it’s about time.

The next day’s main event reinforced that feeling. United had saved up a slew of announcements to be rolled out every time a new exec came up to present. You can read my Twitter feed or follow #UnitedFlightPlan, but here’s a summary of what I have in my notes as being announced.

  • Big push toward being eco-friendly with a $40 million investment fund to support new fuel development
  • “Soft Landing” which pushes hotel options to stranded customers in the app, so they can choose from options and not wait in line
  • “Seat View” on the website shows a 3D tour of the cabin so you can pick your seat from an actual view (no more surprise window seats with no windows) – on the CRJ-550 now with other aircraft to follow shortly
  • Adding navigation to airport maps so you can get turn-by-turn directions on a connection if you enable location services on your phone
  • Partnering with Apple to look at airport redesigns (maybe, possibly) starting with San Francisco, of course
  • Luggage delivery for Polaris passengers flying Newark to London and staying at one of 5 Marriott properties – additional growth is planned for this tie-in with Marriott
  • MileagePlus members get free access to Timeshifter app to help combat jetlag
  • “Miles on a Mission” allows members to set up mileage crowdfunding campaigns which United will feature on the website to encourage donations from other members
  • Redo the interiors of the Embraer 145 fleet (including the lav, whew)
  • Install bigger bins on most of the fleet (80% done by 2023, so it’s not fast)
  • When airplanes get new bins, they will get nose-to-tail power outlets if they don’t have them already
  • In domestic First Class, travelers will be able to choose from at least 5 meals online up to 24 hours before departure – data will be analyzed to make sure United keeps the meals people like and ditches the ones they don’t
  • By October 2020, 90% of the international fleet will have Polaris seats onboard
  • Add a 6th Newark-London flight (using a Lufthansa slot) and make departures go hourly on the hour from 6p to 10p
  • Turning Newark-Washington/National into a shuttle operation with hourly departures (no change to branding or onboard experience except that it will all now be on 2-class airplanes, no more Embraer 145s)
  • 787s will start flying from Chicago to Asia next spring, Chicago also gets Santa Barbara, Pasco, and Vail service plus there will be domestic 777s on Orlando flights (also from Newark) in the spring
  • Denver will see huge growth next summer with about 550 daily departures (up from under 500) – spring will also see new Saturday-only Nassau service
  • Start to push the Star Wars tie-in with the introduction of a new safety video and amenity kits
  • Houston will get CLEAR at all terminals and a new nonstop service to Spokane

Quite the laundry list, isn’t it? You might care about some of these while others might be useless to you, but that’s not really the point. I was struck more by the big picture view.

For many years, United was an airline that prided itself in figuring out how it could cut costs and cut service. It had no qualms about generally making flying unpleasant if it would save a buck. There was no forward-looking strategy, or if there was, it wasn’t good. That is not the United that I saw at media day.

What I saw was an airline with every department — at least the ones that presented — actively working to improve the airline, even in small doses. There appears to be an effort to fill the pipeline with ideas and then push them out rapidly. This kind of thing would make Jake Brace physically ill… and others too. Right now, times are good. Airlines generally open their wallets now, only to regret it when the next downturn hits. But today’s United says this is different.

When I asked Scott, he responded with the same mantra I heard throughout the event: “It’s just math.” United crows that it has the best network. It says 75 percent of US business travel starts or finishes at one of its hubs, and United is an airline for the business traveler. It needs more premium seats for the markets it serves. Scott continued that the low-density 767-300 (read: lots of business class seats) and the CRJ-550 will work, and while they might not work as well when times are bad, it’s still the right thing for United in the long run. United isn’t making short-term plans.

Anyone who knows Scott knows that when he says something this confidently, it’s hard not to believe him. His math brain works on a different level than just about anyone else. Certainly the people of United as well as customers want to believe him. We won’t know for sure until we see what happens when that next downturn comes (quite likely sooner than later the way things are going). For now, however, this is an airline on a mission. The old “United Rising” campaign may be long dead and buried, but for the first time, it would actually be accurate. I never thought I’d see the day. Now we just have to hope that it continues when times get tough.

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38 Responses to United Media Day: Endless Ideas and Abundant Energy

  1. A says:

    All very nice stuff but doesn’t mean much if they don’t fix operations at ORD. The other week my spouse had to do a quick day trip to Chicago. Flew UA due to schedule. On the return flight the taxi time was almost an hour with no communication from the flight crew. I received a string of text messages with the general theme of “I hate United.” Told a friend that commutes to Chicago weekly the pain my wife was encountering and her response was – and I quote, “Oh yes, United is the worst.”

    I know things have improved at UA but their recent opportunity to capture a Delta FF ended in failure. Granted one event isn’t necessarily a pattern but that whole list didn’t mention operations once.

    • Former Chicagian says:

      O’hare is honestly a mess, if you’re taxing for an hour might be due to the airport not United

      • A says:

        Agreed. The lack of communication was the main gripe. Still, I was watching the flights that evening via FlightAware and others were not experiencing the ground delays like UA.

      • Davey says:

        Absolutely. Ever since the redesign of ORD began the taxi time grew exponentially. The FAA evidently decided aircraft should taxi down to the end of the runway and taxi around rather than cross an active runway. Means if you’re landing on a far north or south runway, you have a 20 to 30 minute taxi after you land.

        Other problem is United’s ops at O’Hare. Way too many flights end up in a penalty box waiting for a gate because operations didn’t believe a flight would arrive on time.

        Place is a mess and there is no easy solution. Designed by bureaucrats for operations and not for people.

        • Tim Dunn says:

          add in that AA and UA both operate in tight bank structures, both pushed by Kirby, and ORD is going to have operational constraints – just as any airport w/ that much capacity would.

  2. EndlosLuft says:

    If you check the United 1K group on Facebook people are hating the new program changes. These improvements sound good but you can’t expect people to actually fly the airline if every year (most recently twice in one year) you change the rules for frequent flyers and what they can expect from you. Dynamic pricing = we charge whatever we can forget planing a vacation with family, rewarding our most loyal customers = just another excuse to raise the amount of money (after we did so every year) to be rewarded with some modicum of status. I’m all for IT improvements but my spending on United has gone down every year from close to 100% to I predict less than 5% next year. United is lucky that American is operationally such a disaster at the moment.

  3. Charlie Braden says:

    Great rundown Brett. It’s always exciting to see an airline with that zest for improvement. Sadly, here at ORF, we suffer from abysmal bag delivery mainly on late UA flights. Doesn’t matter if it’s DGS or UGE, or if they change managers. It’s like their culture. Two or more flights may come in within 30 minutes of each other and the ground crews will often wait until the second flight arrives to haul both flights bags to bag claim. While pax on the first flight are cooling their heels at the carousel. Staffing is often pointed to as the cause, yet it rarely happens to the other airlines. It’s a persistent issue and ORF isn’t alone. My only hope is that the push for improvements addresses this problem as well.

  4. David SF eastbay says:

    President of California, that job title just had me laughing for some reason.

    You have a President of the company, them you give the same title for someone in a state.

    So is there a President of Florida, of Texas, of New Jersey?

    • CF says:

      David SF – There is a President of NY/NJ as well, but that’s it for United.

    • Oliver says:

      They really should have used “Governor of CA”

      Jokes aside, how much control does the Pres of CA actually have? Is it an operational role or just a figure/talking head?

      • CF says:

        Oliver – Best I can tell is that it’s more of a sales/ops kind of role.
        I’m sure she’s in Apple’s offices all the time. But I also know that people absolutely love her in and outside the company, so it’s a good person to have representing in the state.

  5. Tim Dunn says:

    Having recently flown on UA a couple of times, I can say that there is a palpable improvement in customer service compared to several years ago. The adversarial relationship that existed between UA mgmt. and labor was highly destructive and Munoz has been smart to lead UA away from that chapter. That said, weather and operations were largely normal for my flights.

    As much as many people want to trash AA, the DOT says that AA’s year to date on-time is better than UA’s by a couple percent, including their regional carriers. Most carriers have refocused on on-time and UA will likely underperform the industry precisely because they have more hubs that are in perpetual ATC delay mode (esp. EWR and SFO) than other airlines. As UA tries to build its base of connecting traffic, those hubs will be Achilles Heels and other carriers that offer connections over other hubs will undoubtedly take advantage of that reality.

    The list of things you noted are all ones that UA should have done years ago and most simply bring UA to some level of best in class competitiveness for that product area. UA is making enough money now that they should be investing billions of dollars per year in their product, esp. for older aircraft and terminals – and they finally are.

    UA still faces enormous structural challenges including industry high cost per enplaned passenger at its hubs compared to AA, DL and WN. Add in that ORD – where AA and UA are battling it out for dominance – is set to become the most expensive large connecting airport in the US, and UA’s network is a whole lot less suited for connecting traffic than a lot of people including UA want to admit. Add in that UA still uses far more small RJs than any other airline in the world, and the cost of carrying connecting passengers is higher for UA than for any other airline. While UA has one of the most impressive global networks in the world, its network is built around outsourced regional jet flying to a far greater degree than AA, DL, and AS or its major global competitors.

    From a financial strength perspective, UA is better off than AA – but virtually every other airline has better debt ratios and is growing with more economical aircraft. Like AA, much of what UA has to work with financially was determined by previous management teams but UA’s ability to offer best in class products will be limited by its profit margins which will be mid-tier for the industry at best. However, with all the good, bad and ugly that UA has, this management team is doing far more than any in decades – if ever.

  6. Eastern 727 Whisperjet says:

    Cranky,

    Just curious – any mention about a possible return to JFK for United?

    I know of several people (anecdotal, but nonetheless telling) that live in Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx or out on Long Island that no longer even think of United. They sometimes look for multi-carrier itineraries (due to schedule) and when they realize jetBlue (or American or Delta) gets them one way to the West Coast from JFK but that United can’t return them to JFK (or vice versa), they just seem to “lose interest” in even thinking about United, even for a Chicago hop from LGA.

    And somewhat related – if there was no “return to JFK” talk, any talk about working with other carriers (cough – Delta – cough) to rescind the silly perimeter rule at LGA? If there were no perimeter rule, United would frankly likely not even need JFK service, and provide the occasional transcon to/from LGA. (I wouldn’t doubt it if p.s. service moved to LGA, if that were the case.) I could be wrong about the exact technical details, but I believe transcon service is both technically and commercially (i.e., load restriction concerns, etc.) possible from LGA with the latest Airbus “neo” and Boeing “MAX” airliners.

    Many thanks – interesting post!

    • Tim Dunn says:

      Whisperjet
      Glad you brought up the perimeter restriction and UA’s departure from JFK.

      While lots of people laud Kirby’s moves, one of the most significant moves that cemented DL’s position in NYC was orchestrated by Parker and Kirby at US – the LGA/DCA slot swap. Add in that AA ended up having to divest virtually the entire AA DCA slot portfolio (or its equivalent) in order to get the slot deal done, and it is clear that Kirby didn’t have the strategic foresight to realize that DL would gain enormously against AA, the only legacy carrier left that US could have merged with. DL gained the mass at both JFK and LGA to marginalize UA at JFK so Kirby is now trying to overcome his own actions in helping DL build NYC. DL now carries more local passengers to/from NYC than UA and is growing its capacity faster than UA. UA’s advantage in NYC is Asia; if DL gets serious about adding its own flights, UA’s advantage shrinks considerably. The impediment to DL adding E. Asia from JFK is more about working w/ its partners than the markets that UA serves from EWR- Asia.

      Regarding the perimeter restriction, you are absolutely right that it would be easier and far more advantageous for UA to fight to get the perimeter restriction relaxed than to try to get back into JFK. As long as AA holds onto something at JFK, their transcons will be part of the mix, meaning UA would be in a 4 way battle with AA, B6 and DL to regain any significance. Unless AA collapses at JFK, UA is not likely to even try to return to JFK. If AA collapses at JFK, UA could agree to take over what AA has (terminal) at JFK – but I doubt if that will happen.

      DL very much wants the perimeter rule eliminated or relaxed and has unsuccessfully sued the Port Authority over the issue. As the largest slot holder at LGA, and at an airport that will have to always be slot controlled because of the enormous capacity and demand imbalance, Delta is very well positioned at LGA which will increasingly be natural and profitable protected market.

      The costs of rebuilding LGA per current passenger boarded are enormous. Since LGA is predominantly a local market airport (few connections), New Yorkers will pay the price for the LGA rebuild and it will come in higher fares over time. There are plenty of markets from LGA that could easily be upgraded further from regional jets – even two cabin RJs – to mainline if there were more places that airlines could serve from LGA.

      I suspect DL’s biggest negotiating position with getting the PANYNJ to relax the perimeter restrictions is the Port’s desire to rebuild JFK, esp. to expand terminal 1. DL’s massive aircraft parking lot sits right in the middle of the area where an expanded terminal 1 and rebuilt terminal 2/expanded T4 would go. DL also benefits from lower terminal costs by parking aircraft on the former T3 site and towing than it would in building an expanded T4.

      It would not surprise me in the least if DL has connected its willingness to work w/ the Port on rebuilding JFK to the Port’s willingness to relax the perimeter restriction at LGA. There is no reason to protect any NYC airport from competition at another airport.

      B6 would be the biggest loser if the perimeter is relaxed or eliminated while there is a good chance that AA would no longer be able to support its JFK transcons if the perimeter restrictions are relaxed. AA does have the slots at LGA to be able to operate a decent-sized transcon operation at LGA. UA has enough slots that they could add transcon flights from LGA but they clearly would have to cut some destinations – perhaps CLE and IAD. I would bet that there would be a relaxation – meaning a limited number of beyond perimeter flights – rather than elimination. AA and DL would benefit the most either way.

      If the perimeter restriction is dropped, B6 would probably add EWR to the west coast and DL might as well. Considering the relaxation of slot restrictions at EWR brought an increased presence from B6, UA is undoubtedly itching to regain what it lost.

      Finally, the 757 and 767 are the best planes to be able to operate from LGA to the west coast and AA, DL and UA all have enough of them that if the perimeter restriction is changed, they would all be able to take advantage of it. If AA pushes the 757 out the door, they will be in a world of hurt compared to DL and UA which are holding onto their 75 and 76 fleets.

      This is all my two cents but I think you are right. Kirby might have to support DL in order to be able to get a bigger portion of the Queens-west coast market. UA’s success would likely come at AA and B6’ cost. I don’t think we’ll see anything happen until more of LGA’s new terminals are opened but I suspect that the PANYNJ will have to sit down and negotiate with DL or neither will fully achieve their plans.

      Great sidebar.

      • Tim Dunn says:

        correction… virtually the entire pre-merger AA DCA slot portfolio had to be divested in order to get the AA/US merger done.

      • Eastern 727 Whisperjet says:

        Tim,

        Very interesting feedback – many thanks!

        A few thoughts:

        1) I know they aren’t much of a player, but Alaska also has nonstops between JFK and the west coast, so I definitely understand United’s reticence in going back to JFK for that market.

        I think a LaGuardia operation (without a perimeter rule) would definitely be more palatable for east-of-the-Hudson transcons for United, so I was just wondering if they would “support” Delta’s effort to revoke the perimeter rule.

        2) The costs of the LGA reconstruction are indeed high, but I don’t think they will impact relative fares (and thus enplanements) all that much, particularly with regards to the other airports in the region, as the Port Authority (and the airlines) are also rebuilding not just JFK (as you mentioned), but also EWR.

        “Terminal One” is underway at EWR to replace Terminal A, and Terminal B’s replacement planning is well underway. Along with the PATH extension, and the Newark AirTrain replacement, EWR’s reconstruction costs won’t be appreciably cheaper than LGA’s, I’m afraid.

        And the reconstruction of JFK that you mentioned is also going to be a heavy lift. Shocker, I know…

        3) American would also benefit from the perimeter rule being lifted, I feel – possibly to the detriment of its JFK operation, but perhaps not, given LGA’s tighter-than-JFK capacity and slot restrictions. (Any reduction of JFK capacity/service by American in favor of a perimeter-rule-free LGA and Philadelphia would likely be quickly snapped up by Delta and jetBlue, I feel.)

        And, as I understand it, the entire western satellite at the new LGA Terminal B will be only for American/American Eagle/American Shuttle, thus creating what could really be a nicely branded environment for them at LGA. (The new eastern satellite – already opened – is quite nice. The difference from the old Terminal B environment is significant…)

        4) The entity most threatened – as I understand it – by potentially lifting the perimeter rule at LGA (and as Cranky I believe alluded to once here) is jetBlue. They have a significant JFK presence, with only the 6 contact gates at the Marine Air Terminal/Terminal A at LGA (although that is a very nice set-up, I have to admit).

        I could be wrong about this, but I think jetBlue has also done a good job of getting local upstate New York legislators, as well as Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, all riled up about the potential negative impacts of lifting the LGA perimeter rule on small market cities like Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse, given LGA’s slot restrictions (which aren’t going away, I feel).

        Anyway – yes, interesting sidebar and apologies to Cranky if this feels like a bit of hijacking the United post. My apologies. It’s just that whenever I think of United I reflect on how often I used to fly them compared to how little I do now, given that they are gone from JFK. All of my recent Untied flights (and there are relatively few of them) have been from LGA, as (despite United’s aggressive ad campaigns) Newark Liberty is still harder to get to for many than JFK.

        Thanks again!

        • Eastern 727 Whisperjet says:

          Tim,

          And I agree 100% with both your observations about jetBlue and about “relaxing” vs. eliminating the LGA perimeter.

          Thanks again to you and to Cranky for such an interesting discussion forum.

          • Tim Dunn says:

            Whisperjet
            Since NYC is the largest local market by revenue for UA – as well as for B6 and DL – JFK is bound to be an issue as soon as network comes up for UA, and it did both in your questioning and what CF observed at the event.

            There is no doubt that UA was run with a very narrow focus before the current leadership group took over – but you can’t undo those decisions on a dime.

            Add in that UA’s departure from JFK and the accompanying slot swap between DL and UA backfired with the EWR side of the deal being overruled by the DOJ and then the FAA relaxing slot restrictions at EWR and DL has out-smarted AA, UA, and US on multiple occasions in NYC.

            As for AS being in the JFK transcons, that is all the more reason why UA wants to be able to compete with them from JFK and/or LGA and not just EWR.

            As for B6, let’s not forget they were gifted 60 slot pairs at JFK to get started. LGA and JFK had slot restrictions removed since 9/11 and yet B6 didn’t grow as much as DL did; nearly all of DL’s growth at JFK was because of the relaxation of slot controls and not because of slot trades, unlike at LGA. If slot restrictions are relaxed at JFK again, DL will grow again even if B6 does also and it allows UA in.

            LGA and JFK both have abundant low cost carrier presence – on par w/ other large airports including DCA and EWR now – so I doubt that B6’ efforts to argue for its protection will ultimately prevail. Relaxing the perimeter restriction will allow LGA to carry many more passengers; even if B6 is hurt at JFK because of the whole thing, there is no shortage of carriers that want to add capacity in NYC. If B6 wobbles, someone else, including WN, could step into JFK. And it is precisely the possibility of the slot restrictions at JFK being eventually dropped (which could happen w/ ATC improvements) that provide little incentive for anyone to buy B6 even though there are plenty of people that think that is where B6 is headed.
            B6 could have a LGA transcon presence if it wanted; it just can’t also have Florida and Boston too. It is also possible that the Port Authority could push for relaxing slot restrictions at JFK with relaxing the perimeter restrictions at LGA – but at least one half of that process is controlled by the FAA.

            UA could return to JFK on its own, if enough terminal space is available and if slot restrictions are relaxed, but again, Delta plays a huge part in allowing the Port Authority to proceed w/ plans to add gates – and there is very little reason for Delta to allow an airport to add a bunch of gates that would increase Delta’s costs at JFK unless it gets something far more valuable at LGA.

            Your appoint about expensive terminal facilities at all 3 NYC airports is valid

            And I do think that DL will restart service to Tokyo and expand JFK to E. Asia. If DL does that, UA has no choice but to ratchet it up at either LGA with relaxation of the perimeter restriction or push harder to get back into JFK. UA would be so much smaller than DL or B6 at JFK so a more restricted LGA has got to be more preferable for them – and for DL.

            Sit tight but I think this will be a topic we will see more of here on CF. We’re more on the same page on this than not.

      • DesertGhost says:

        Tim, I once asked Brett who initiated the Delta/US Airways slot swap. We were at a mini “dorkfest” in Tempe, Arizona, near the former America West/US Airways headquarters building. He didn’t know. Neither did any of the US Airways people who were there. You may have inside information that none of those people had at that time, so I don’t want to say you’re misinformed. I don’t know who brought up the idea (But It would be interesting to know, from a historical perspective). Interestingly, the number of DCA slots US Airways and American divested was within one or two of the number that US Airways received from Delta. All of the former American service was retained. What got axed were a number of “slot squatting” flights to places like Philadelphia. The combined company did keep the Sao Paulo authority it gained in the swap, moving it from Charlotte to Miami. As I wrote elsewhere, Howard Cosell was the first person I ever heard say, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” He was talking about sports, but it’s true of business – and life, as well.

        • Tim Dunn says:

          Ghost,
          the slot swap was obviously a very secret deal until it was announced. It took 2 long years of negotiations to get the DOJ to approve it – but ultimately both sides got what they wanted.

          The problem was that US ended up with about 56% of the slots at DCA which meant that they weren’t going to be able to do any other transactions that increased their slot portfolio. You may believe it was merely hindsight that made it clear that 50% was the limit that the DOJ would allow but antitrust law has been applied in many other industries.

          When US wanted to do the merger with AA, the DOJ said that AA/US could not get any larger so THE EQUIVALENT of the AA slot portfolio +/- (which was also about the amount of slots AA received from DL had to be divested – which is how WN and B6 added so much service to DCA.
          If it didn’t dawn on US that AA was the only legacy carrier left and a merger between them was either going to happen or US was going to end up as a permanent standalone airline, then they clearly weren’t looking down the road.

          DL ended up with less than 50% of the slots at LGA – about 48% – and did not run into any further antitrust issues beyond the initial divestiture that both DL and US had to do as part of the deal.

          DL also got a much higher number of slots at LGA than it traded to US at DCA. LGA slots are a lot more valuable because it is a much larger business market but somehow a slot pair to GRU and $60 million was considered ok by US.

          And, no, US ultimately did not retain the GRU flight; it was used for CLT-GRU which was dropped and, DL also got new slots for DTW-GRU.

          So, DL essentially got 125 LGA slot pairs for $60 million after all of the divestitures were down and the GRU flight was dropped.

          I don’t know who started the slot swap discussions either but it was clear how valuable DL saw it would be which is why DL kept nursing the deal until the DOJ finally approved it.

          And, during the time the slot swap was going through the approval process, JFK slot controls were relaxed which allowed DL to markedly build its presence at JFK. DL knew by 2005 and the closure of DFW as a hub that NYC was going to be DL’s major strategic focus in the NE; DL built both LGA and JFK and patiently waited for the pieces to fall into place for DL to end up as the largest carrier at both JFK and LGA.

          UA eventually became too marginalized at JFK to compete. And that all was before the AA/US merger resulted in AA cutting NYC capacity ever year since the merger.

          So, forethought was possible. DL just happened to be the only carrier that had it regarding NYC and that is why DL is as large there as it has.

          UA is now faced with trying to figure out how to either slow DL’s growth or for UA to jump back into the game somehow so as to get a piece of NYC growth for UA.

          and it is also precisely because DL’s growth in NYC has slowed to a relatively slow trickle compared to what it was for years that DL has now turned its NE focus to Boston where much of DL’s growth has come from AA and UA.

          On the west coast, most of us shook our heads when UA gave up gates at LAX to AA, only to say years later that move was also a mistake.

          Considering that UA had the NE sewed up just after the merger with hubs at both EWR and IAD which generated far more revenue than AA or DL and UA is now pushing on UA’s NE dominance while also aggressively growing on the west coast – where DL is right behind UA in total west coast revenue – the two coasts are absolutely strategic.

    • CF says:

      Eastern – Actually, yes, there was a really funny exchange about it.
      United announced that it was adding that 6th Newark to Heathrow flight, and someone asked where the slot came from. Scott mentioned that it was from Lufthansa, but he made a pointed jab at JetBlue saying that slots are available at congested airports if you really want them. You just have to keep shaking that tree until something falls out. So you can imagine the laughter in the room when the next question was, “so how’s that going with JFK?” Scott just smirked and said that they’ve been shaking the tree, but nothing has fallen. Of course, JFK is more than just slots. It’s also terminal space. But so far, nothing. They do want back in.

      • Eastern 727 Whisperjet says:

        Cranky – Fascinating. Thanks for the reply! I was reading an article that I found through one your links that had calculated the most pricey real estate on Earth was a Heathrow slot. I guess JFK can’t be too far behind, tree-shaking notwithstanding.

  7. Keith says:

    Cranky

    I wish you could let all of us readers in Chicago know when you are here for a meeting.

    I am sure some of use would have liked to have had a small cranky “meet and greet”.

  8. A_B says:

    “When we were brought into an unmarked warehouse in an industrial neighborhood area southwest of the loop, I began to wonder just what the airline was thinking.”

    Sounds like the makings of a great horror film

    “Welcome to AA Media day Mr. Leff, now about those blog posts, igor here has 10 reasons you should be more positive about our airline, number 7 will shock you! (with 100kv)”

    “Partnering with Apple to look at airport redesigns (maybe, possibly) starting with San Francisco, of course”

    Barf: will they hide all the usb ports in the back and put the power buttons in hard to find locations? Intuitive my foot.

    “Start to push the Star Wars tie-in with the introduction of a new safety video and amenity kits”

    Double barf: the new trilogy is the worst thanks to Jar Jar Abrams and Roundhead Rian.

    Just give me the cool Rhapsody in blue video and record some more episodes of “Big Metal Bird” while you’re at it.

  9. Oliver says:

    I can’t help but notice that the only mention of the loyalty program is “ MileagePlus members get free access to Timeshifter app to help combat jetlag”. As a Lifetime Gold I say “Whoop de doo” to that. :)

    But we all know the changes that UA introduced in recent months – both the elimination of award charts and the introduction of new status qualification requirements.

    My question: does the lack of mention of “loyalty” program indicate that they believe it is less important to running an airline these days, or simply an editorial choice you made because those changes were covered elsewhere?

    • CF says:

      Oliver – Well, that’s because United just announced the big change to elite qualifying shortly before. Luc Bondar who runs MileagePlus was up there and had one of the lengthier discussions. It just didn’t break news as much.

  10. Ian L says:

    The high-J 763 strategy is interesting, at least for now. Cool to have a plane where there isn’t a really bad seat…and to get any lower of a middle seat ratio you’d be on a 2-2 regional jet. And…at least for now…they’ll be able to fill those planes EWR-LHR with enough yield to make up for the 767’s less-than-great fuel efficiency. And they can park those aircraft during a downturn, having (I assume) paid ’em off awhile ago.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I need to check the seat map for my flight tomorrow to ensure UA hasn’t swapped in a 10-across 777 on the overnight leg, like happened at T<24 IAD-BRU early this year. I get the idea of dropping Economy comfort through the floor, drastically improving Business hard product, and adding Premium Economy that's slightly better than E+ on 9-abreast 777s. Doesn't mean I like it at all…to the point that I thought about booking a LH A340 leg to avoid the potential of an equipment swap on this flight.

  11. pddee says:

    Thanks for the update on “my” airline of choice.  United goes where I want to go and it has been a good experience of late.
    Patrick Dee

  12. Karen in California says:

    Brett, I am quite interested in the Backstage training the flight attendants have attended. Can you give more info?

    • CF says:

      Sunny -I’m afraid I don’t know much more. You’ll have to find a United flight attendant to tell you about it. I hear it’s good though.

  13. Al 9000 says:

    I noticed a different tone in the preflight cellphone communications for my most recent trip on United in August. It was a bit more personable: “Here we go” or something like that. By itself, no big deal, but the cabin crew and especially the gate staff also seemed friendlier.

    Looking forward to seeing how this plays out when I travel for Thanksgiving. I also am excited to see how the “seat view” works when I make my next booking. It’ll be nice not to have to toggle back and forth between the site and seatguru.

  14. Alex says:

    777s to Orlando! Does that represent a big increase in capacity, or are they planning on running bigger planes at a lower frequency?

    If it’s the former, then Spirit and Frontier will have a fare war on their hands on those routes.

    • CF says:

      Alex – I actually don’t know what it looked like before. It’s probably a big increase,because during the spring, that’s a bottomless pit of demand.

  15. Grichard says:

    After the David Dao thing, I canceled my Mileage Plus account and promised myself I’d book away from United whenever possible. Subsequently, no other domestic airline has done anything still more atrocious, so I’m sticking with my promise to myself. (Haven’t flown United since!)

    United: pound sand. I haven’t forgiven you that egregious act.

  16. Tory says:

    So in your estimation, Cranky, does that mean Denver will pass Houston to be their second-largest hub behind ORD? I know Kirby dangled the potential of 700 flights/day at IAH (and AA has certainly proved 900 is possible at DFW), but I don’t get the impression it’s budged much from the current 500.

    • CF says:

      Tory – It’s entirely possible. Denver is the airline’s most profitable hub, and they seem very bullish on it.

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