United boosts Boeing 737 MAX commitment with 25-aircraft order

Mar 1, 2021

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Despite the Boeing 737 MAX’s troubled pastincluding order cancellations that followed the aircraft’s global grounding — airlines around the world are now committed to seeing the MAX become a long-term success, returning planes to service and, in some cases, boosting existing orders.

This week, United Airlines became the latest U.S. carrier to add more 737 MAX aircraft to its order book, with an additional 25 planes slated to join the carrier’s fleet in 2023. COO Andrew Nocella explained the move in a note to employees, that the carrier’s public relations team shared with TPG:

As we plan for the future and the return of demand, we’ve been looking at ways to best position our fleet for the recovery and be in a position to best take advantage of people’s desire to travel. Today, I’m pleased to share with you an important announcement that will be a key driver of our near-term growth as an airline: We’ve placed an order for 25 new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for delivery in 2023. We’ve also moved up the delivery of 40 previously ordered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to 2022 and 5 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to 2023. This is in addition to the 24 MAX aircraft we were already set to receive in 2023.

While it may seem like a questionable time for an airline to be growing its fleet, the planes will clearly offer a long-term boost to United’s bottom line — Nocella later references the MAX’s 15% fuel savings, which he says would also help bring the carrier closer to its goal of becoming “100% green” by 2050.

While United’s 737 MAX planes offer a fresh cabin, they’re lacking on the amenities front, with streaming content replacing seat-back entertainment. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Nocella also notes that United is advocating for another government bailout, which would further assist with cash flow as the carrier works towards recovery:

We continue to advocate in Washington for a Payroll Support Program 3.0 that would extend our ability to keep those folks on the payroll at United beyond March 31, when the current PSP funds expire. But we need to make aircraft orders more than a year in advance of taking delivery. And as the end of the pandemic nears and vaccines continue to roll out, today’s fleet announcement helps position us to meet the demand we expect to see in 2022 and 2023 and puts us on a path toward more opportunities for our employees in the future.

Related: United becomes second US carrier to return the 737 MAX to service

Nocella also stated that passengers prefer the MAX to United’s other narrow-body planes, noting:

These new aircraft represent the best the industry has to offer in terms of customer amenities, experience and comfort. In fact, flights on our MAX aircraft in 2018 and 2019 had the highest average customer satisfaction score of any large narrow-body aircraft.

While the fresh cabin, fancy overhead lighting and quieter ride certainly help lead to an enjoyable flight, personally, I’d prefer an older 737 with seat-back entertainment — customers are responsible for bringing their own device along if they want to watch movies or TV shows on the MAX, including in the first-class cabin. United’s 737 MAX lavatories are almost comically undersized, too, though I’m hopeful the airline will work to address that issue before more planes join the fleet.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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