United Airlines, now profitable once again has firmly set its stall as a leading Passenger Experience airline, vying for market dominance through modern, comfortable cabins that give passengers what they want: more space, more entertainment and more choice. This is something we applaud and have been promoting as the right approach to winning over customer loyalty and playing the long-term game in building profits.
While American and Delta have both also invested once again in the passenger experience, United has boldly set ambitious goals such as seat-back screens across the entire fleet by 2025, as well as a new fleet of aircraft, including the largest plane order ever for United, and largest globally in over a decade for no less than 270 narrow body aircraft.
Hot on the tails of their recent Boom announcement, the ‘United Next’ plan will have a transformational effect on the customer experience and is expected to increase the total number of available seats per domestic departure by almost 30% and significantly lower carbon emissions per seat.
This is no small venture. When combined with the current order book, United expects to introduce more than 500 new, narrow-body aircraft: 40 in 2022, 138 in 2023 and as many as 350 in 2024 and beyond. That means in 2023 alone, United’s fleet will, on average, add about one new narrow-body aircraft every three days.
However the most impressive news item as part of the Next plan is United’s new narrow-body mainline fleet will come with a new signature interior that includes seat-back entertainment in every seat, larger overhead bins for every passenger’s carry-on bag and the industry’s fastest available in-flight WiFi, in a fresh, modern LED mood-lit cabin. The airline expects to fly the first 737 MAX 8 with the signature interior this summer and to begin flying the 737 MAX 10 and the Airbus A321neo in early 2023.
As for tech, each new 737 MAX and A321neo will have the industry’s fastest available in-flight WiFi that lets customers stream video from online services. The aircraft also will have Bluetooth technology throughout for easy connections between wireless headphones and the seat-back entertainment screens which range in size from 10″ for all Economy passengers to 13″ in First.
What’s more, United intends to upgrade 100% of its mainline, narrow-body fleet to these standards by 2025, an extraordinary retrofit project that means United will deliver its state-of-the-art inflight experience to tens of millions of customers at an unprecedented pace. What’s also impressive to see is the brand consistency touch-points across the entire fleet. In a smart unified bid to create brand consistency, the airline is adopting the same finish and trim wherever it can, so come 2025, passengers will know they are on a United aircraft, and come to expect the passenger experience touch-points that brings with it.
“Our United Next vision will revolutionize the experience of flying United as we accelerate our business to meet a resurgence in air travel,” said United CEO Scott Kirby.
“By adding and upgrading this many aircraft so quickly with our new signature interiors, we’ll combine friendly, helpful service with the best experience in the sky, all across our premier global network. At the same time, this move underscores the critical role United plays in fueling the broader U.S. economy – we expect the addition of these new aircraft will have a significant economic impact on the communities we serve in terms of job creation, traveler spending and commerce.”United CEO Scott Kirby.
United’s 737 MAX 8 has 16 United First seats and 54 Economy Plus seats – more than double the number of extra leg room seats offered by competing airlines on similar-sized aircraft. The 737 MAX 10 – the largest member of the MAX family – makes up the majority of United’s new order and will include 20 United First seats and 64 Economy Plus seats and the new A321neo aircraft are expected to have a United First and Economy Plus seat count similar to that of the 737 MAX 10.
This is excellent news all round for United, and in our opinion puts United once again firmly on the US map. It’s recent investment in very specific branding such as Polaris, and the Polaris lounges, new website, livery and uniforms, all help shake off United’s dusty image, replacing it with something competitive and compelling and could make the smallest of the three major US carriers one to be reckoned with once more.