United unveils massive aircraft order, announces new narrow-body cabin interiors and retrofit program

Jun 29, 2021

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United Airlines unveiled a blockbuster order on Tuesday for 270 narrow-body aircraft, the largest single order in its history.

United said it has placed firm orders with Boeing for 50 737 Max 8 aircraft and 150 of the longer 737 Max 10 variant, and with Airbus for 70 of the European planemaker’s A321neo.

The order was accompanied by news that the airline plans to update the cabins on its narrow-body jets so that in-flight entertainment screens will be on all mainline flights by 2025.

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Combined with existing orders, United expects to take delivery of 500 new aircraft between now and 2026, with roughly one aircraft being delivered every three days in 2023.

The carrier described the order as part of its “United Next” program, directing the company through its post-pandemic development.

With the aircraft, United said it plans to retire numerous smaller aircraft, replacing them with larger narrow-bodies as a tactic to grow at hubs with capacity issues, such as Newark and San Francisco.

As a result of the upgauging, which will largely replace single-class 50-seat regional jets with larger aircraft in markets that can support the bigger planes, United will average 30% more seats per domestic departure, and — since the jets will have Economy Plus and First Class seats — 75% more premium seats per flight, on average — an average of 53 per flight.

About 200 older regional jets will be retired, United chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said.

Related news: United unveils first Boeing 737 MAX 8 routes with new cabins, in-seat TVs

“We’re still going to fly 50-seat jets to small communities throughout the country to make sure they’re still connected to our global hub network,” Nocella said. “But we’re no longer going to use small jets to fly to large communities.”

The airline said that because the new aircraft are more fuel efficient, the overall emissions per seat would decrease

United took pains to stress that it has no plans to denseify the regular economy cabin on its narrow-bodies to make those numbers work — they’ll be achieved entirely through aircraft replacement and retirements.

“This is not an opportunity for United to densify our aircraft,” Nocella said. “We’re keeping the same comfort standards we have today on this new fleet.”

“We know that’s not always the case when an airline orders a new fleet,” he added.

United said that 300 of the aircraft would go towards replacing older planes, while 200 would go towards growing the airline.

“Our United Next vision will revolutionize the experience of flying United as we accelerate our business to meet a resurgence in air travel,” CEO Scott Kirby said in a press release.

New cabins with In-flight entertainment at every seat

Each new plane being delivered will come with a newly designed cabin, United said. The airline also plans to retrofit its entire existing narrow-body fleet, which should be mostly complete by 2025.

As a central tenet, each seat will have its own personal in-flight entertainment monitor, bringing United’s mainline fleet in line with Delta, and separating it from holdouts American and Southwest.

“I’ve always been a fan of seatbacks,” Kirby said. “I’ve walked through airplanes that have seatback entertainment, and I will count,” he continued, “over 60% of the people are engaged with the screens.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that this is something our customers value, something that will make our customers pick United more and more.”

The new cabins will also feature new LED lighting and larger over-head bins, enabling a 1:1 passenger-to-carry-on ratio, Toby Enqvist, United’s chief customer officer, said.

Rendering courtesy of United Airlines

“It’s really making the gate-checked bags a thing of the past and making the whole boarding experience so much more efficient, but also less stressful,” Enqvist said.

The airline said that it expected to create 25,000 new jobs as a result of the order, including pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers, and maintenance technicians. United and other U.S. airlines shrank considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the job growth is in effect largely a rebuilding.

Featured image courtesy of United Airlines

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