United’s bringing the Boeing 767-400ER back from long-term storage

Mar 26, 2021

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In a matter of days, United will have at least one of every wide-body jet model back in the sky.

The Chicago-based carrier is taking a handful of Boeing 767-400ER jets out of long-term storage starting this weekend and into the busy summer travel season. These planes have been parked in Roswell, New Mexico, since March 2020, when the pandemic took hold in the United States.

There’s no telling (yet) which exact tails are coming back, but N67052 recently exited storage and flew to Hong Kong (HKG), possibly for some sort of maintenance.

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Before the pandemic, the 767-400ERs were a workhorse for United on flights to Europe and South America. Once the pandemic decimated demand for long-haul flights, United opted to store these gas-guzzlers and instead use the more fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner for its skeleton international network.

While analysts suggested that United could retire the 767 fleet, no one could’ve predicted that a chunk of the carrier’s Boeing 777 fleet would be grounded. On Feb. 20, a Pratt & Whitney-powered United Boeing 777 suffered an uncontained engine failure, before landing safely minutes later.

The carrier has since grounded its 24 affected 777s, following a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness directive requiring further engine inspections.

Related: How United Airlines gets its parked planes ready to fly again

To backfill for the high-density, 332-seat 777s, United will reactivate some of its parked 16 Boeing 767-400ERs.

According to a carrier spokesperson, you’ll find them primarily flying routes that used to be operated by the now-grounded Pratt & Whitney 777s. Cirium schedules show that United’s planning two 767-400ER routes in May, between Newark (EWR) and both Houston (IAH) and San Juan (SJU).

The planes sport 39 lie-flat business class seats, 70 Economy Plus seats, and 131 economy seats, and represent a big upgrade for flyers. United’s high-density 777s featured alternating forward- and rear-facing business-class seats arranged in 2-4-2 configuration.

The 39 lie-lat pods on the 767-400ER are all forward-facing in a 2-1-2 configuration. Coach passengers will likely prefer the 767’s 2-3-2 arrangement, compared to 3-4-3 on the 777. Plus, every seat on the 767 sports an inflight entertainment monitor.

BIz seats on the United Boeing 767-400ER (Photo by Wallace Cotton/The Points Guy)

These ex-Continental planes are the only twin-aisle jet in the United fleet without the carrier’s new Polaris biz or plans for a Polaris retrofit. They feature the Collins Diamond biz pods, whereas a majority of the shorter 767-300s are outfitted with the carrier’s latest cabins. In fact, some of the 767-300s are in a “high-J” configuration, with a whopping 46 Polaris seats.

Of course, it’s possible that these jets ultimately end up receiving the Polaris retrofit, or getting retired altogether. In the meantime, however, they’re coming back for a second life with United.

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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