United Airlines' domestic growth includes more 777s to Orlando
United Airlines has some wide plans for Orlando next year, as it continues with its accelerated domestic growth push.
The Star Alliance carrier will begin flying a Boeing 777-200 on select flights between Newark Liberty (EWR) and Orlando (MCO) in December, United domestic network head Ankit Gupta said at the airline's media day on Friday.
The 777, which can seat up to 364 passengers, will replace a significantly smaller Boeing 737-900ER with 179 seats, he told TPG. The new wide-body route to Orlando complements existing 777 service to the Florida holiday mecca from Chicago O'Hare (ORD).
Increasing the gauge, or size of aircraft, is a focus for United. President Scott Kirby said earlier in October that United was "seven years to eight years behind... competitors on gauge growth with approximately 13% fewer seats per domestic departure compared to Delta." Next year, the airline plans to increase the average number of seats per departure — like switching a 737 to a 777 — by roughly 3%, he added.
United plans to grow system capacity by 4-6% year-over-year in 2020, with much of that in its domestic network. In addition to flying more larger aircraft, plans include a new shuttle-like service between Newark and Washington National (DCA), a sixth daily flight between Newark and London Heathrow (LHR), and four new routes to Tokyo's close-to-downtown Haneda (HND) airport.
The carrier also announced five new routes at media day that will begin next year. From Chicago O'Hare, the airline will begin new service to Pasco (PSC) in Washington, Santa Barbara (SBA) in California, and Vail (EGE) in Colorado. United also will add nonstop service between Denver (DEN) and Nassau (NAS) in the Bahamas and between Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and Spokane (GEG) in Washington. The Chicago-Vail route is a summer extension of existing seasonal winter service.
Flights between Chicago and Pasco and Vail, and Houston and Spokane will be flown by an Embraer 175 with 76 seats, and between Chicago and Santa Barbara by an Airbus A319 with up to 128 seats, said Gupta. All but the Vail route begin on June 4, with the Colorado service launching sometime that month.
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United's new wide-body flights to Orlando further solidify its lead as the largest domestic wide-body operator in the U.S. The carrier flew 47% of all domestic wide-body seats in October, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. American Airlines was a distant second with 23% of seats.
American is also the only other carrier flying wide-body jets between New York and Florida. The Oneworld Alliance carrier operates Boeing 767-300ERs and 777-200s between New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Miami (MIA), Diio shows.
Wide-body aircraft like the 777 tend to be more comfortable for passengers due to their larger cabins. However, airlines have added to seats to many of these aircraft in recent years to boost revenues, including United's recent decision to retrofit its 777-200s with 10-abreast seating in economy in a 3-4-3 layout rather than its previous nine-abreast 3-3-3 layout.