United p.s. retrofit date targets sighted


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.

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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.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

14 Comments

  1. What’s up with that premium cabin, as in the lack of seats? Lame…

    1. The 16BF seat config is temporary. The future config will be 26 up front when the conversions are complete.

  2. Interesting. They probably chose the sCO international 757 for the lay-flat seats, but it also means a reduction of premium seats. Redeploying the IPTE 767 probably didn’t make sense. I wonder if this means the 787 will make an appearance to make its domestic test run on p.s. before it goes international.

    1. There are a number of reasons why the 787 is unlikely to do test runs on the p.s. routes, most of them to do with getting as many crew to actually fly the plane as possible and the relatively low utilization of the p.s. aircraft, as well as none of the three airports p.s. serves being sCO crew bases.

      As for the 767s, I doubt that the current long-haul schedule would allow for one of those to be swapped as easily as the 752. May as well use the 763 where it is going to be more profitable – on the real long-haul routes – rather than on a domestic hop, even if it is p.s.

  3. Interesting… What will be happening to the business class section? As of now, the United PS service operates in a 3 class configuration (First, Business, and Economy Plus)

    1. The forward cabin on the new p.s. config is considered business class. There will no longer be a first class product on those planes.

  4. I was wondering how those ps flights would work out. I was going to take the SFO to New York flight but they would not let me preselect a seat. Apparently that was something specific to these flights. I told them I am not goimg to leave too chance i’d not be in a middle seat and would book on VX then.

  5. @Seth – You say: “As for the 767s, I doubt that the current long-haul schedule would allow for one of those to be swapped as easily as the 752. May as well use the 763 where it is going to be more profitable – on the real long-haul routes – rather than on a domestic hop, even if it is p.s.”

    So, you think there is no p.s. flight that is more profitable than the least profitable 767 international flight?

    1. Yes, I believe that the long-haul international routes where they are putting the 763s are likely more profitable than the p.s. flights.

      As for jumping ship to AA, I’m not so sure where anything about the p.s. upgrade suggests that. Yes, United is removing 3-cabin service from the p.s. fleet. They’re also switching to a much better biz product for the premium seats that will remain. Really hard for me to see this move as a good reason to move to AA, unless you only ever fly transcons ex-JFK and only ever actually buy coach fares looking for free upgrades to biz.

  6. This is really extremely unfortunate. I don’t see what remains that is so ‘premium’ about this. United P.S. was one of the best things about United and was a pacesetter in the industry. Losing the three class service, losing the economy plus throughout the coach cabin, losing Row 9, losing the amount of upgrade opportunities, this is all very sad and further proof of the erosion occurring under Smisek who just wants to create more crappy narrow body planes he can fly across the Atlantic and have run out of gas and have to land in Greenland. Having a flat bed seat is nice but do you really need it to fly transcon? I’ve flown P.S. at least 30 times and the barca lounger is fine [I actually prefer it to the tilted seat in First]. Why not change First to the flat bed business seat, install AVOD throughout, upgrade the cradle seat, and bring back the meals in economy. That would be P.S. Of course, I guess I am ‘over-entitled’ and should just put-up or shut….

    1. The existing p.s. product is tired and not particularly impressive. The new seats and IFE are miles ahead of the ones they will be replacing.

      Is it unfortunate that there will be fewer premium seats available for upgrades? Sure. But I’ve never expected an airline to run its business based on putting me in the premium seat when I only ever pay the cheapest coach fares. I’ll take ’em when I can get ’em, but that’s just the way I roll. Upgrading the cradle seat isn’t really an option as there is no product between it and the new flat seats. Plus the new flat seats are designed to fit in the 757.

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