United Orders More Boeing 777-300ER and 737 MAX Aircraft, Sets New Passenger Records

Jan 16, 2019

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A day after Delta announced that in-app SkyMiles seat upgrades were coming soon, the government shutdown was costing it a pretty penny and the long-awaited first flight of the A220 may be delayed, United is unloading a barrage of bulletins itself. As part of its full-year and Q4 2018 earnings report, the carrier quietly disclosed that it ordered an additional four Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and 24 737 MAX aircraft last month.

That’s atop the 21 new Boeing aircraft it took delivery of in the past year, including four 777-300ER, four 787-9, three 787-10 (which we recently reviewed between Newark and Los Angeles) and 10 737 MAX 9 aircraft.

United's 777-300ER offers 1-2-1 seating in business class. Photo by Zach Honig.
United’s 777-300ER offers 1-2-1 seating in business class. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

The 777-300ER expansion is great news for those looking to plop down in a Polaris business-class seat across the ocean, and we found the 737 MAX 9 to offer a slick first-class cabin, improved seats from front to back and a far quieter ride than the aircraft it will replace. United isn’t going so far as to point out which routes on which the new metal will fly, but we’ll be keeping an ear out on its full earnings call for added detail.

On the operational side, it saw profit drop some 20% — attributed to higher fuel and labor costs — but still managed to beat expectations. More interesting, however, are the records set in Q4. United flew “the most revenue passengers ever,” and also operated “the most mainline departures and achieving the fewest cancellations ever in a year.” Translation? More United customers departed on time in 2018 than ever before. Granted, the weather in 2018 seemed to help all airlines, as Delta noted on Tuesday that it, too, blew past 2017’s on-time performance records with 251 days of 2018 without a Delta mainline cancellation.

737 MAX 9
United 737 MAX 9. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

You may have noticed a little less luck in scoring an open middle seat last year as well, as United was able to push its year-over-year load factor from 82.4% to 83.6%. That’s even more impressive given the rate at which United is adding seats, and it seems to be filling them at higher prices. Passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) was up 5%, while cost per available seat mile (CASM) was up 7%, both on a year-over-year basis.

United absorbed a staggering 29.3% uptick in fuel cost from 2017, reporting an average rise from $1.74 per gallon to $2.25 per gallon, while the airline as a whole guzzled 4% more during the period.

On the customer experience front, it swung open the doors at three new United Polaris lounges located in San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), while also introducing a new boarding process and United Premium Plus seating. In January, it opened its newest Polaris lounge in Los Angeles (LAX).

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