Surprise: United is upgrading an unlikely Florida route with its fanciest jet

Sep 9, 2021

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If you were asked to list the most premium domestic airline routes, odds are that service to Orlando wouldn’t make the cut.

Home to Disney World, Universal Studios and other family-friendly attractions, Orlando isn’t necessarily known for drawing an outsized proportion of business and deep-pocketed leisure flyers. In fact, the city’s airport is a hub for multiple low-cost carriers, including Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and Spirit, which largely cater to families and budget-seeking customers.

Yet, United Airlines is making a surprising move this winter: It’ll send its fanciest jet, the “high-J” Boeing 767-300, on two daily flights between Newark (EWR) and Orlando (MCO), from Oct. 31 through Dec. 15, according to Cirium schedules and later confirmed by the airline. (Note that schedules could change depending on the course of the pandemic.)

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Inside the “high-J” 767, you’ll find a whopping 46 business-class pods, 22 premium economy recliners and 99 coach seats, representing a massive upgrade for flyers headed to Orlando. The Polaris cabin features individual lie-flat pods in a 1-1-1 configuration, and the Premium Plus cabin is being marketed as extra-legroom Economy Plus, giving flyers a relatively inexpensive way to score lots more additional space for a modest upcharge.

This configuration first launched back in 2019, and it was designed to fly some of the strongest business-focused routes, such as Newark and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to London-Heathrow (LHR).

With a higher percentage of premium-cabin seats, United’s goal was to capture as much business demand as it could. Of course, the pandemic has cut much of that demand, leaving United with spare 767s to deploy on other routes.

16 rows of biz on the United “high-J” 767 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In the last year, the Chicago-based airline has sent its poshest plane on some flagship domestic missions, including one of its new Hawaii routes, from Newark (EWR) to Maui (OGG), and from San Francisco (SFO) to both Honolulu (HNL) and Maui, among others.

Additionally, when the airline returned to New York-JFK in March, it made a splashy relaunch with two routes (to Los Angeles and San Francisco) aboard the “high-J” 767.

But now, United is rethinking its aircraft strategy. Last week, the airline removed the jet from its JFK schedules in favor of the much less premium Boeing 757-200 that features just 30 fewer biz seats and no premium economy cabin.

Then this week, UA upgauged the Newark to Orlando route with the “high-J” 767. According to United’s explanation, the plane has downtime between international flights, so it’s going to fly to Orlando in between.

While the move might seem puzzling, United is seemingly following in the footsteps of its Big 3 competitors. Throughout the pandemic, American Airlines has flown a wide-body jet on select frequencies between Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami to Orlando. Delta has done the same from its Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Salt Lake City hubs. But none of the AA or Delta jets offer such a high percentage of premium-cabin seats as you’ll find on United’s swanky 767.

United’s “high-J” 767 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

So, it’ll be interesting to see if United can command a revenue premium for its fancy plane. In 2019, the average airfare between Newark and Orlando was about $150, according to Department of Transportation data analyzed by Cirium.

Of course, there could be other factors at play in United’s fleet strategy, but one thing is for certain: If you’re headed to Orlando, flying United from Newark will offer the fanciest experience.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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