United Airlines is planning severe cuts to their fleet, their route capacity and their staff, according to sources; the formal announcement could come as soon as today.
Most domestic US airlines are planning some sort of capacity reduction these days; AA announced similar 10-20% reductions in capacity and an evisceration of their San Juan hub. Still, United’s plan looks to ground 94 of the 460 planes the company operates (all the 737-300 and 737-500s) and also reduce their 747 fleet. These cuts are expected to take place over the next 12-18 months, but things are looking pretty grim.
As part of the cuts, United will be (finally) retiring their Ted product. Initially crafted as a low-cost carrier within a carrier, the concept of all-coach seating and reduced meal service never was really able to reduce costs sufficiently to compete with other LCCs in the market. And it turned off a lot of business travelers since their upgrades went away. Those planes are now expected to be refit with F cabins and the Ted brand retired.
The biggest loser in this whole deal may be the company’s Denver hub. With SouthWest nipping at the edges and pushing Frontier – another Denver-based carrier to the edge – United may suffer a similar fate at that airport. I hope the flights don’t disappear from DEN too quickly; I have EWR-DEN-HNL booked for this fall and I want to cross Denver off on my airports list, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on that one.
This is also pretty much an admission of defeat for the United CEO, Glenn Tilton. He was brought in during the bankruptcy to help form the company into an attractive merger target. Continental walked away earlier in the year, and even US Airways, generally considered to be the red-headed step child in the US aviation market, couldn’t come up with an agreement to merge with United. So Tilton failed at his job and is now actually being put in a position where he has to run the company rather than apply lipstick onto his pretty pig.
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