United Flexes Its 757 Muscle in Summer 2023 Network Plans

United

United revealed its Transatlantic plans for summer 2023 yesterday, and while there’s plenty to unpack in the announcement, the star of the show is the 757. That’s a competitive weapon that United uniquely deploys on its Atlantic network.

There are a total of 9 “new” routes being announced including service to 3 “new” destinations. Why do I put them in quotes? Well, some of this has already been announced, most notably Newark – Dubai. And technically, some of these have been flown in previous years so they aren’t truly “new.” But that’s a technicality. These are new routes/cities that did not operate in 2022 or during the pandemic. Oh, and there is one city that is not coming back after joining the network in 2022.

Here’s what’s happening:

New Cities

  • Dubai (from Newark) starts March 25, 2023, 1x daily on a 777-200ER
  • Malaga (from Newark) starts May 31, 2023, 3x weekly on a 757-200
  • Stockholm (from Newark) starts May 27, 2023, 1x daily on a 757-200

New Routes

  • Chicago/O’Hare – Barcelona starts May 25, 2023, 1x daily on a 787-8
  • Chicago/O’Hare – Shannon starts May 25, 2023, 1x daily on a 757-200
  • San Francisco – Rome starts May 25, 2023, 1x daily on a 777-200ER
  • Washington/Dulles – Berlin starts May 25, 2023, 1x daily on a 767-400ER

Added Frequency

  • Los Angeles – London/Heathrow 2nd daily starts March 25, 2023 on a 787-9
  • Washington/Dulles – Paris/CDG 2nd daily starts June 2, 2023 on a 787-8

Dropped City

  • Bergen (from Newark) will not return

Note that all of these routes will be summer seasonal except for the Dubai flight. Oh, and Bergen which now operates in no season at all.

United put together another fun teaser video this year to get people guessing and build hype, but ultimately, there was no way it was going to surpass last year’s announcements with exotic spots like Tenerife and Palma de Mallorca. This year had no choice but to be more subdued.

The star of the show in this year’s announcement is the 757. Sure they might be getting ratty on the inside, but they serve a unique purpose at United. They will be used to not only launch two of the three new cities in the network, but they will also fly the new Chicago – Shannon route. This is an airplane that United uses so well, opening up new thin markets and serving markets that the other airlines won’t.

I recently did a presentation for Raymond James, and I think this slide I put together is pretty relevant. It shows all narrowbody routes over 2,500 miles that flew last July for the Big Three.

American has no 757 after retiring the airplane during the pandemic. It will eventually have the A321XLR — the airline has 50 on order — but until then the 787-8 is the smallest airplane it has to fly longer haul. That is not an airplane with low fixed costs and limited capacity.

Meanwhile, Delta has plenty of 757s, but it doesn’t seem too interested in using them for Europe. It didn’t do that at all last summer, unless you count Iceland as being part of Europe. It could do it, but Delta prefers to go with a higher gauge. That makes it tougher for the airline to serve some of these smaller markets unless it can really juice demand.

United already uses its 757s over the Pond widely, and it keeps trying to do more. Bergen may not have worked — and it has finally pulled out the last 757 from Heathrow in favor larger capacity aircraft — but United has more places to put those airplanes anyway. And with 50 A321XLRs of its own on order, it has the perfect replacement for the 757 ready to go.

There is, of course, more that’s interesting here. I’m very curious to see how San Francisco – Rome does, and is it finally the time for Berlin to work better than it has from the US in the past? We shall see.

What is clear is that United is just not stopping with its focus on growing Europe. It had the most available seat miles from the US to Europe this summer, and it will again have the same next summer barring any huge changes from competitors. It has trailed Delta in previous years, but Delta has been happy letting its partners do more of the heavy lifting while United has been building up its own flying to get close to where Delta has fallen in recent times.

Percent of Transatlantic Joint Venture ASMs for Delta and United by Year

US/Canada – Europe/Middle East/Africa Data via Cirium, excludes Alitalia which was in a JV with Delta but is no longer

Overall, United will be up 10 percent over the Pond vs last year and up 30 percent compared to 2019. Some of this new growth over the Atlantic is diverted capacity from China, which still hasn’t opened and probably won’t anytime soon. But much of this is just pure growth in long-haul markets where United does it best.

45 comments on “United Flexes Its 757 Muscle in Summer 2023 Network Plans

  1. The 757 continues to prove its worth and unique place in the fleets of the airlines (fewer and fewer) that leverage its versatility. The strategy UA is deploying is an interesting one, and it seems to be paying off. With the exception of BGO, a route that was too small to serve even 3 x weekly from EWR, much of the 757 expansion routes are back in 2023. The problem is it shows the huge reliance on leisure travel, which is cyclical, seasonal, and dependent on economic circumstances and beholden to fuel prices.

    UA is going all in on Europe because it has no other place to fly all those wide bodies and long haul capable planes it has, given that a lot of Asia remains challenging, and Russia overfly issues are keeping India off limits for the most part.

    UA has upped its game for sure, and provides an overall much improved travel experience and has for some time. However, it still cannot overcome the difficulties that come with Newark Airport, which is simply awful to fly out of at the best of times, and peak TATL push, rife with delays triggered by lack of gates, moving planes around the airfield, and tight turnarounds. UA still has a long way to go to improve its food, which on a recent Polaris 777 flight from Italy to Newark, had all the look, taste, and feel of correctional facility fare.

    1. Traveltheworld – Just to add some context, United has bulked up its schedule elsewhere as well. Australia/New Zealand/Oceania is as big as it’s ever been in recent memory. Cirium says that Jan 2023 is up 21.4% in seats vs Jan 2020.

      And Asia is back up fully except for China/Hong Kong and so far, Japan.
      But now that Japan is open, it is ramping quickly. To put that in context, Jul 2022 vs Jul 2019 to Asia was down nearly 70%. But Jan 2023 vs Jan 2019 is down 33.4%. So capacity is coming back there too.

      So it’s not just about Transatlantic growth, but other markets are getting more capacity. They just don’t have the flashiness of being a new route or something exciting like that. Still, yes, they have those China-focused airplanes that they need to find homes for.

  2. CF – Perhaps you can provide some data on how poorly CO did with its TATL B757 operation a few years back? I recall lots of enroute fuel stops, basically because Mother Nature refused to cooperate, and they encountered stronger that usual headwinds on the westbound legs.
    Yes – the B757 is a fabulous aircraft, but it is getting a tad ‘long in the tooth’ and certainly ORD-SNN would appear to be marginal, unless they are payload restricted.
    I don’t believe the technique of filing an enroute ATC reclearance is valid anymore. (OA used that with great effect on their ATH-YUL (YMX?) B707 operation). I used to recall lots of these performance numbers straight off, but alas…..!
    Yes – it will be an interesting summer!

    1. This was a common problem in the early 2010s when UA had EWR-TXL and EWR-STR on 752s, those issues were worst in the winter with the jet stream at its peak (Google “United 757 fuel stop” and all the articles were published in the winter). Used to joke about the UA hub at BGR. But those routes are 10% longer than ORD-SNN, which is running in the summer with weaker winds. And the 752s have those cute little scimitars now!

      http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=ewr-txl,+ord-snn,+ewr-str,+ewr-cdg

    2. CO struggled on some routes with the 757 during the N/H winter, not so much in summer. Headwinds on westbound TATL are far stronger from November to March.

    3. Anonymous – I do remember hearing stories of the Berlin flight in particular performing very poorly operationally, but as others have mentioned, that was more in the winter going westbound when headwinds caused trouble. Perhaps the one to watch this coming summer is Newark – Stockholm since that’s only about 50 miles shorter than Berlin at 3,415nm.
      But the other routes are significantly shorter. Chicago – Shannon is 3,120nm and Newark – Malaga is 3,195nm. Those really shouldn’t have trouble.

  3. The Malaga route caught my eye, as that’s not a destination I’ve seen a ton of, but for 3x weekly service, I guess it’s not a huge risk.

    How tired are United’s 757s looking on the inside? I know the planes are old, but it looks like it will still be at least several more years before 321XLRs begin to be delivered in significant quantities and erode the 757’s niche.

  4. It’s going to be a long time before China reopens for tourists & therefore UA is focusing where they can fly their long hall fleet effectively.

    Of course UA canceled there Bergen flight from Newark, you can drive there via the Garden State Parkway, the Turnpike or even Rt 17.

  5. When UA started using the 757 on the IAD-LHR, I was skeptical about spending 6 to 8hrs on a narrow body in Y. But it’s still a great plane to fly in (both in the front and back). I was getting a little nervous when I saw a few clips of narrow bodies in the teaser video, and was concerned that meant UA were going to try putting the MAX on some of these routes – have never had a comfortable flight in any 737, on any route.

  6. The elephant in the room that has to be addressed is that United didn’t make money flying the Atlantic in the 2nd quarter of 2022 which means it is now approaching the Atlantic just as it operated the Pacific pre-covid – as a market share game at the expense of profits; when you are the largest airline across the Pacific and consistently lost money in that region according to data which UA provides to the DOT, they are not focused on achieving their primary goal as an organization which is to maximize stockholder value.
    Delta just reported its 3rd quarter profits and is still getting a refinery benefit of 21 cents/gallon in reduced fuel costs or $195 million on a systemwide basis. Fuel efficiency matters the most on longhaul flights. The 2nd quarter saw pretty dramatic drops in fuel cost but those costs are ticking back up as global supplies are set to shrink. UA might be able to improve its finances in the short window with lower fuel prices in the 3rd quarter.
    UA holds onto the least fuel-efficient aircraft in order to be able to re-add capacity and yet the bottom- line results show that American, which long was the bottom of the industry in terms of profit margins, beat United in the 2nd quarter. The 777-200/ER is the least fuel efficient widebody aircraft while 757 cost per seat on flights over 8 hours (which require an augmented crew) are the most expensive per seat – precisely why AAL and DAL aren’t willing to do it with current generation aircraft. Most of these routes are to try to chase demand for half of the year – and then you’re stuck with the planes and their crews for another 6 months. UA historically does much worse on profits in the winter than AA or DL.
    Fuel efficiency matters more than ever with jet fuel prices twice as high as they were in the best of the pre-covid period. Adding in, UA is likely to continue its trend of paying the most per gallon of the big 4 for jet fuel. UA has committed $35 billion to fleet renewal over the next 5 years but most of that is going for its domestic fleet although it does include the A321XLR which will replace its remaining B757s. UA has and will continue to have a structural fuel efficiency problem across its international network. Becoming the largest across multiple regions doesn’t matter if it doesn’t translate into profits – and that can’t happen unless United is willing to spend another $10 billion to modernize its international fleet.

    1. “Fuel efficiency matters the most on longhaul flights. The 2nd quarter saw pretty dramatic drops in fuel cost but those costs are ticking back up as global supplies are set to shrink.”

      Shrink? Why would that be? Some bloke called Joe cancelled the Keystone pipeline on his first day in office after it had been approved and billions already spent on its construction. Well, it came from that rogue state called Canada and we can’t trust them. Better to chat up the friendly, democratic, freedom-loving, far away MBS and get him to turn up the taps. Oh….wait a minute….

      1. Your Keystone XL pipeline comments are misinformed. Less than 10% of the pipeline had actually been constructed prior to Biden cancelling it. The project initiated in 2008 and has been consistently been held up for various reasons, including in 2020 by the Supreme Court. In addition, the project still needed to secure about 85% of the necessary funding.

        The project would have send tar sand oils down the pipeline to be shipped overseas for processing. That oil then goes on the global market for auction. The volume from the pipeline would have had a negligible impact on the total volume of global oil production. It would NOT have directly resulted in more gasoline supplies for the US.

        Econ 101: Oil is traded on the international market. Gas prices skyrocketed when Covid stated to wane, and people started to drive more and travel more. Opec did not increase their output and that drove up the market price of oil which drove up the price of diesel and unleaded gas. Then came the Ukraine Invasion. Of course we know what Opec has done recently. They really would like their BFF Donny back in office, particularly Russia and Saudi Arabia, as they prefer that the POTUS be a total sycophant.

    2. I’m guessing that United’s executives and network route planners have just a little more knowledge about the core economics of each route and its impact on the company’s overall financial picture than we do. Publicly available data and reports simply don’t have that kind of in depth information. Costs aren’t the only considerations involved here either. Potential revenue is also a factor, and keeping seats in line with demand is important to maximize revenue and margins. “Capacity discipline” was raised in the NEA hearings, where the DOJ’s lawyers deliberately misrepresented the concept, of course. It’s almost as if the DOJ wants to go back to the days when airlines – even perfect airlines – were filing for bankruptcy.

      1. The DOJ does not and cannot object to profit maximizing decisions
        And all of the route specific data is fragmented publicly but it all rolls up of necessity to systemwide results. The total cannot be stronger than the sum of the parts

        1. DOJ’s lawyers certainly hinted that capacity discipline was tantamount to monopoly pricing. As for profitability numbers, I’ve heard your logic called “fuzzy math” in a number of places. No one can determine the exact profitability or loss numbers on every route, nor determine their exact impact on profits from public data.

          1. The problem w/ your statement, Ghost, is that United execs themselves have made public comments about the financial performance of other carrier hubs. Although they do have detailed access to their own company’s financial performance, they do not have access to any more data about any other carrier’s financial performance including profitability of hubs than anyone else outside of those companies including me. In fact, the airline generates an enormous amount of data and much of it is accessible to those outside of a company. Either their statements about other carriers are inaccurate or there is enough data that someone outside of a company can make some fairly accurate statements about the financial performance of specific parts of an airline, even if not at the route-specific level – but I didn’t even make statements at that level. And airlines do report system level data to the DOT, which simply publishes what airlines actually have calculated themselves and that data does roll up to the system level profitability that United and every other large jet airline reports to their stockholders and the Securities and Exchange Commission. In fact, UA’s Pacific performance was not profitable for years even before the pandemic and their Atlantic performance was not profitable in the 2nd quarter of this year.
            Also, Bloomberg is saying that United is talking about a massive widebody aircraft order very much in line with what I have discussed elsewhere almost 2 months ago. They know full well that their international fleet is old and fuel inefficient and they have to address it. The size of the order they are rumored to be discussing will amount to well over $10 billion.

            Fuel surcharges do not equate to fuel costs. You need only look at United’s own financial statements to see how much more they are paying

        2. The DOJ can most certainly object to management actions to maximize profit if they’re otherwise illegal.

          The overwork trope courtesy of Milton Freeman that companies have to maximize shareholder value is not supported by the law in most cases. The only time they legally have to maximize profit is when they’re selling the company. That is the only time it is required.

    3. Unless UA has it in their corporate bylaws or charter that their “…primary goal as an organization which is to maximize stockholder value.” They aren’t legally required to chase short term profits or even long term profits.

      Running an Atlantic network at a loss might be part of a broader strategy to please customers and get them for more profitable parts of the network. That is perfectly legal.

      Go take a look at Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, which is still the controlling case law on this subject.

      1. Hi Nick,
        It is not about legality but about fiduciary responsibility. The simple reason why UAL stock does not perform as well as other airlines – let alone other companies – is that UAL does not use its assets as well.
        Yes, every company can justify short-term losses in order to achieve a larger goal but when you lose money on assets that reflect 10% or more of your revenue and do so over a number of years – as United did across the Pacific even pre-covid, then it gets harder and harder to explain the benefit. Even your suggested justification of pleasing customers doesn’t work if it can’t be translated into bottom line results.
        And the point still remains that, in contrast to the Pacific, United did make money flying the Atlantic pre-covid. With the covid era, United dramatically pulled back re-adding capacity because they didn’t believe business demand would return to the degree necessary to justify much of that capacity; in contrast, American re-added capacity fairly quickly. UA shifted Pacific capacity to the Atlantic and it is now the Atlantic that is losing money.
        Keep in mind that fuel is now costing UA twice as much as it did in 2017 – and, even then, UA lost money flying the Pacific with essentially the same fleet as it has now. United spent $750 million more in fuel for the first six months of this year to generate the same amount of revenue as Delta.
        I have never said that I have anything against anyone’s size. The point is that when any company touts their size but doesn’t do it profitably, their motives are suspect. AA has learned it can’t make money on many international routes and is no longer trying to compete in many of them. DL used the pandemic to get rid of its least fuel efficient widebodies and is now taking delivery a dozen plus new-generation widebodies per year.
        UA has no choice but to spend money lots of it – to replace its 777-200/ER fleet because its fuel efficiency is so low compared to new aircraft and its 767s unless they want to invest in keeping them flying.
        IF UA places a larger order for 787s in the near future added on to their massive narrowbody order book which includes the A321XLR coming in a few years, they will be able to be cost competitive – but at the expense of their balance sheet. They just will have spent more than twice what AA and DL each will spend in this decade on aircraft in order to get to similar levels of efficiency and fleet age.

  7. I’m just happy to see something besides another painstakingly drawn out trip report from Canada ;)

    1. Anthony – To be very clear on this, all of those — except for the early ones that were airline related — are being posted on Wednesdays when nothing else would be posted. So that hasn’t interrupted any of the regular programming.

      1. Well now I feel compelled to counter and point out that I happen to love your travelogues. Every single one of them. I hope you’ll continue them with some frequency. And I don’t think I am alone in that sentiment.

        1. Jonny,
          You are correct. I really like the travelogues too! I hope Brett continues to do them after his various trips!

        2. Jonny – Point taken! If I have a good trip, I will gladly write it up.
          But for most of the travel I do, the ground experience isn’t really worth writing up.

            1. Sam – I get that, but I’m talking more about the boring ones than the bad ones! A lot of trips to places I’ve been a million times where it would just be boring. If it’s bad, I can definitely write that up. And I always write the flights up even if they are boring.

      2. Having been a reader of your blogs for years, please continue exactly as you have! ALL of your blogs are interesting – consistently! Some (but certainly not all) the readers comments are less so!

    2. I thought CF’s adventures in Detroit to be rather enlightening, especially when it comes to making intermodal and cross border connections. It’s an area of transportation infrastructure that definitely needs improvement.

      1. Now that you mention it, I wonder if there might be an opportunity for DL to arrange for a “sealed bus” type of express transit, with pax and bags pre-screened (and pre-cleared through immigration/customs) on the Canadian side of the border (there has to be a mall or two in Windsor with plenty of empty parking space and building space), and then for the bus to travel direct to the secure air-side of DTW.

        As with everything, the devil would be in the details, but if such an arrangement were feasible (even, perhaps, at the cost of requiring that participating pax have Nexus membership), it could potentially add some value and be duplicated elsewhere.

      2. True, but I also came away thinking that in hindsight he would have been better off just paying for Porter and having done with it, but then we wouldn’t have gotten the travelogue, which I’m enjoying very much.

        1. Porter doesn’t do Detroit. That would have just been an RJ on Air Canada or Delta which would have been WAY less fun.

          1. they do Windsor, which would have left you in the same pickle. Tunnel Bus is returning soon.

  8. Is there a difference if an A/C is paid for (I assume most 757s are) or do the higher maintenance costs offset the lack of payments (principle and interest) on an older A/C?

    CF, I look forward to reading all of your posts.

    1. Bigsix – Yep, with the 757s being owned, the fixed costs are much lower than a new airplane. The variable costs are higher though with fuel and maintenance costing more. Despite what others may suggest here, having a mix of both can be a useful tool for serving different types of markets.

      1. I don’t think there is any doubt that having a group of paid-for aircraft with strong operational capabilities such as the 757 makes sense to use in high demand, potentially short-term opportunities; summer transatlantic demand was very strong this year and will continue in 2023 in part because of the strong dollar. UAL is on the verge of replacing the 757s with the A321XLR and many of those routes that are started with the 757 can continue with the A321XLR.

        however, incremental short time capacity additions can’t undo the impact of long-term unprofitable capacity or short-term situations such as fuel inefficiency which is compounded with an older fleet.
        UA execs have indicated that part of its reason for its profitability issues in the Pacific were because of China and its prorate agreements with NH. Both of those can be fixed, the former because much of the US-China capacity simply won’t come back and UA won’t be allowed to put alot of capacity into the market that probably was not profitable even in 2017 when fuel prices were half what they are today. But UA made money across the Pacific in just one quarter of each of 2017, 2018, and 2019. Major parts of their core Pacific network wasn’t profitable and neither fuel or fleet was the reason.

        And I still believe that UA has come to the realization that their plan to hold onto all their 777s and fly them won’t work at current and projected fuel prices. A massive widebody order will fix the fuel inefficiency but at a very high cost and will take years to rectify as new aircraft replace 777s.

        It is routes like SFO-FCO which was also announced in this transatlantic expansion that are more problematic just because it has high operating costs relative to having a paid for aircraft that could be used for a shorter route. and 757s can be easily used on UA’s domestic and Latin systems for a couple more years and then back on the Atlantic over the summer.

  9. Bummer about BGO. I just took that flight in September, and it was a very convenient entry point in to Norway. I continued on immediately to Oslo, but Bergen cannot be beat for customs ease and speed. The plane was full, but it was kind of a Viking Cruise special (although not for me).

  10. Cranky,
    I looked at the AA map and went – Huh?? ANC-LIM?

    That’s a pretty improbable route, and near as I can tell, a nonexistent one. What was that meant to be?

  11. Interesting that just today (08Nov22) UA is reported as blocking some seats on their B757 fleet only! The reason given in the articles I read is because Americans have got heavier. One article appears to have mistakenly pointed to the B737 fleet, but it’s source clearly shows the B757 aircraft only.
    Now, why do you think that is? Maybe because the B757 is being tasked to fly trans-Atlantic next summer, and someone is now getting concerned about it’s range…?? If it’s because Americans are heavier, wouldn’t they be heavier on other aircraft also? (What nonsense!)
    A quick check of the UA website doesn’t find any reference to any of this.

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