United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek has stated a few times that the company had some deficiencies in their in-flight product, bits that would be addressed as part of the merger process between United and Continental. The first of many bits detailed on that topic was the announcement that Economy Plus would be expanded to the Continental fleet starting in 2012. Other than that, however, not many specifics have been discussed. That changed today with the release of some upcoming changes that can be expected from the company to the tune of a $550MM investment.
Economy Plus Seating
While the Economy Plus efforts on the Continental fleet were initially expected to not be seen until 2012 the new release suggests that the conversion will be starting sooner. The company expects to see the E+seats on 38 Continental aircraft before the end of the year. Based on some information received from other sources it is quite possible that these first Economy Plus aircraft will be 757-300s or 737-800s. Those aircraft have been operating with temporary seats and without any in-flight entertainment systems for a while now due to issues with the Koito seats.
By the end of Q1 2012 the company expects to have 100 Continental aircraft equipped with Economy Plus seats. That number will include 29 Bombardier Q400 commuter turbo-prop aircraft which will be equipped with both a first class and economy plus section.
Already the leader in total flat-bed seating capacity to and from North America, United has committed to expanding their installation starting in Q3 2011. There are 26 Boeing 767s – 12 of the -400 variant form Continental and 14 of the -300 variant from United – which will be equipped with the new seats. The 12 -400s were previously announced while the 14 -300s have only been speculative recently. These aircraft are also going to be receiving winglets to improve their range and performance. This does mean the likely reduction of wide-body service in the form of 767s on domestic routes as the -300s being converted are the aircraft that service that function.
In addition to the 767s being converted the company has committed to installing flat beds in 12 more 777s by the end of the year. The United aircraft being converted will continue to be in a three-cabin configuration.
The announcement also highlights updates to the IFE systems on the Boeing 747 aircraft. Rather than installing dedicated systems in the seats of the economy cabin United will instead offer a streaming media option for users with their own wireless devices. While the release suggests the decision is still out to bid the only current offering that is installed is that of gogo and the product they currently have in operation on American Airlines 767s running their premium transcon routes. There is no indication that they will be adding power outlets to the economy cabin on the 747s so hopefully your wireless media receiving device has a good battery.
The IFE systems will also be updated as part of the full-fleet renewal of the p.s. aircraft operating between New York City‘s JFK airport and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Those aircraft will receive the lie-flat Continental BusinessFirst seats as well as a full AVOD system and will maintain wifi service.
Not included in the announcement but referenced above, the company also expects to begin the deployment of the DirecTV systems on the few 737s that were delivered without it as well as the 757-300s that have not yet been converted later this year.
While this could arguably be included in the regular IFE section of the report but it is worth highlighting separately as it is a pretty cool feature and one that it unique to United. The company has committed to expanding the Channel 9 systems on all legacy Continental aircraft. Woohoo!
There are a number of other improvements being made as well, including upgrades to the overhead bins and a retrofit of the interiors of the United Airbus narrow-body aircraft. They also reaffirmed the commitment to add wifi to the legacy Continental aircraft that have DirecTV systems, pending the launch of the additional satellite by LiveTV to bring that service into operation.
- An updated estimate on the Continental/United 787 seat map
- United commits to keeping EconomyPlus in the new fleet
- American to launch streaming media service in-flight
- Yet another delay for Koito seat replacement
- The fallout from the Koito seat debacle
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