Several months ago United Airlines announced that they would be changing the configuration of the 757-200 aircraft they have running in their "premium service" routes between New York City‘s JFK airport and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. The changes include removing the first class cabin and replacing the business class seats with the flat-bed models used on their transatlantic 757 service. It also means adding in more economy seats and changing from an all Economy Plus layout to both regular economy and Economy Plus. The target date for the conversions to begin was sometime in the second half of 2012 but nothing more specific was ever announced. Looking at the timetables today, however, it appears that a bit of information about a possible start date for the conversion has been sighted.
Flight number 161 is operated by a sCO 757-200 with lie-flat seats.
The change appears to start on September 1, 2012. In many cases I’d discount changes such as this one which show up on weekends, particularly with all the schedule changes that United is running on weekends still. This one, however, changes the operating carrier of the flight on that route making it seem much more likely to be legit.
The change makes sense for a number of reasons. The company will need to pull at least one aircraft out of service at a time to fit them with the new configuration. This move comes after the peak summer season for trans-Atlantic trips, allowing the company to shift a properly configured 752 over to the route and to provide the new premium service to customers. It isn’t enough seats – 10 fewer than the new config will eventually have – to offer it to everyone, but it is definitely better than putting a non-flat bed config on the route.
The sCO 752 also has the new AVOD IFE system and Economy Plus seating, but it does not have gogo wifi, unlike all the other p.s. aircraft. It remains to be seen which in-flight connectivity solution the p.s. planes end up with after their conversion but I’d bet on them ultimately having the Panasonic-supported satellite-based system. They might have to go with gogo in the interim if the new system isn’t ready yet, but I would expect them to end up there eventually.
The overall conversion timeline is still somewhat in question, but this is a pretty good indication that things are finally getting started.